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Published October 1998 | public
Journal Article

Optimal Retention in Agency Problems


This paper studies the interaction between a single long-lived principal and a series of short-lived agents in the presence of both moral hazard and adverse selection. We assume that the principal can influence the agents' behavior only through her choice of a retention rule; this rule is further required to be sequentially rational (i.e., no precommitment is allowed). We provide general conditions under which equilibria exist where (a) the principal adopts a "cut-off" rule under which agents are retained only when the reward they generate exceeds a critical bound; and (b) agents separate according to type, with better agents taking superior actions. We show that in equilibrium, a retained agent's productivity is necessarily declining over time, but that retained agents are also more productive on average than untried agents due to selection effects. Finally, we show that for each given type, agents of that type are more productive in the presence of adverse selection than when there is pure moral hazard (i.e., when that type is the sole type of agent in the model); nonetheless, adding uncertainty about agent-types cannot benefit the principal except in uninteresting cases.

Additional Information

© 1998 Academic Press. Received September 19, 1996; revised March 24, 1998. This paper has benefitted from the comments of participants at a number of seminars, and from two exceptionally detailed referee reports. Both authors are grateful to the National Science Foundation for financial support; the first author also thanks the Sloan Foundation in this regard.

Additional details

August 19, 2023
October 18, 2023