Co-author: Adam Harris
Long-term informal relationships play an important role in the economy, capitalizing on match-specific efficiency gains and mitigating incentive problems. However, the prevalence of long-term relationships can also lead to thinner, less efficient spot markets. We develop an empirical framework to quantify the market-level tradeoff between long-term relationships and the spot market. We apply this framework to an economically important setting—the US truckload freight industry—exploiting detailed transaction-level data for estimation. At the relationship level, we find that long-term relationships have large intrinsic benefits over spot transactions. At the market level, we find a strong link between the thickness and the efficiency of the spot market. Overall, the current institution performs fairly well against our first-best benchmarks, achieving 44% of the relationship-level first-best surplus and even more of the market-level first-best surplus. The findings motivate two counterfactuals: (i) a centralized spot market for optimal spot market efficiency and (ii) index pricing for optimal gains from individual long-term relationships. The former results in substantial welfare loss, and the latter leads to welfare gains during periods of high demand.