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Provision versus Appropriation in Symmetric and Asymmetric Social Dilemmas


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  • James C. Cox

    (Experimental Economics Center and Department of Economics, 14 Marietta Street NW, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA; corresponding author.)

  • Elinor Ostrom

    (Founder of the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA, and the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA. Deceased.)

  • Vjollca Sadiraj

    (Experimental Economics Center and Department of Economics, 14 Marietta Street NW, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA;)

  • James M. Walker

    (The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Department of Economics, Indiana University, Wylie Hall 105, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA;)


Social dilemmas characterize decision environments in which individuals' exclusive pursuit of their own material self-interest can produce inefficient allocations. Social dilemmas are most commonly studied in provision games, such as public goods games and trust games, in which the social dilemma can be manifested in foregone opportunities to create surplus. Appropriation games are sometimes used to study social dilemmas that can be manifested in destruction of surplus, as is typical in common-pool resource extraction games. A central question is whether social dilemmas are more serious for inhibiting creation of surplus or in promoting its destruction. This question is addressed in this study with an experiment involving three pairs of payoff-equivalent provision and appropriation games. Some game pairs are symmetric, whereas others involve asymmetric power relationships. We find that play of symmetric provision and appropriation games produces comparable efficiency. In contrast, power asymmetry leads to significantly lower efficiency in an appropriation game than in a payoff-equivalent provision game. This outcome can be rationalized by reciprocal preference theory but not by models of unconditional social preferences. doi:

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Southern Economic Association in its journal Southern Economic Journal.

Volume (Year): 79 (2013)
Issue (Month): 3 (January)
Pages: 496-512

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Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:79:3:y:2013:p:496-512

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Cited by:
  1. David L. Dickinson & Daivd Masclet & Marie Claire Villeval, 2014. "Norm Enforcement in Social Dilemmas: An Experiment with Police Commissioners," Working Papers, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University 14-02, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
  2. Sophie Clot & Gilles Grolleau & Lisette Ibanez, 2014. "An experimental analysis from a taking game in Madagascar," Working Papers, LAMETA, Universtiy of Montpellier 14-02, LAMETA, Universtiy of Montpellier, revised Jan 2014.


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