Unforeseen contingencies and incomplete contracts

Eric Maskin, Jean Tirole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

345 Scopus citations


We scrutinize the conceptual framework commonly used in the incomplete contract literature. This literature usually assumes that contractual incompleteness is due to the transaction costs of describing - or of even foreseeing - the possible states of nature in advance. We argue, however, that such transaction costs need not interfere with optimal contracting (i.e. transaction costs need not be relevant), provided that agents can probabilistically forecast their possible future payoffs (even if other aspects of the state of the nature cannot be forecast). In other words, all that is required for optimality is that agents be able to perform dynamic programming, an assumption always invoked by the incomplete contract literature. The foregoing optimality result holds very generally provided that parties can commit themselves not to renegotiate. Moreover, we point out that renegotiation may be hard to reconcile with a framework that otherwise presumes perfect rationality. However, even if renegotiation is allowed, the result still remains valid provided that parties are risk averse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-114
Number of pages32
JournalReview of Economic Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'Unforeseen contingencies and incomplete contracts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this