The Economics of Contracts: Theories and Applications

By Eric Brousseau; Jean-Michel Glachant | Go to book overview

15
Positive agency theory: place
and contributions
Gérard Charreaux

1 Introduction

One of the most-quoted articles of economic literature, by specialists in organizational economics or in management sciences – in particular, researchers in finance – is that of Jensen and Meckling (1976). This article provided the foundations of the positive agency theory (hereafter PAT), the influence of which extended considerably beyond finance. From the beginning, it was a part of an ambitious project (Jensen and Meckling 1998) initiated at the University of Rochester, at the beginning of the 1970s: to build a theory of organizational behavior based on the actors' rationality assumption, in particular of managers. This theory, originally founded on the property-rights theory and on the agency relationship concept borrowed from the principal–agent approach, is aimed towards a theory of coordination and control applied to organization management and centered on managers. It applies, in particular, to organizational architecture and corporate governance.

As Jensen and Meckling specified (1998, p. 8), their goal was to build a theory of organizations: “Our objective is to develop a theory of organizations that provides a clear understanding of how organizational rules of the game affect a manager's ability to resolve problems, increase productivity, and achieve his or her objective. ”

Since their first writings (in particular, Jensen and Meckling 1976; Jensen 1983), the founders of this theoretical current had clearly taken care to mark their difference in comparison to the principal–agent theory, as much from the point of view of their objectives as of the methodological approach used. However, it appears that the specificity of PAT often remains ill-perceived. It is either regarded as a non-formalized alternative of the principal–agent theory, or it appears as a component of the contractual theories, which is less generally applied compared to that of the transaction-costs theory (hereafter TCT). These two interpretations are both, if not erroneous, at least simplifying; they are explained, in particular, by the methodological differences separating these various currents as

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