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Gift exchange and reciprocity in competitive experimental markets

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  • Georg Kirchsteiger
  • Ernst Fehr
  • Arno Riedl

Abstract

One of the outstanding results of three decades of laboratory market research is that under rather weak conditions prices and quantities in competitive experimental markets converge to the competitive equilibrium. Yet, the design of these experiments ruled out gift exchange or reciprocity motives, that is, subjects could not reciprocate for a gift. This paper reports the results of experiments which do not rule out reciprocal interactions between buyers and sellers. Sellers have the opportunity to choose quality levels which are above the levels enforceable by buyers. In principle they can, therefore, reward buyers who offer them high prices. Yet, such reciprocating behaviour lowers sellers' monetary payoff and is, hence, not subgame perfect. The data reveal that a majority of sellers behave reciprocally and that this behaviour is anticipated by buyers. As a result, buyers are willing to pay prices which are substantially above sellers' reservation prices. These results indicate that reciprocity motives may indeed be capable of driving a competitive experimental market permanently away from the competitive outcome. The data, therefore, support the gift exchange approach to the explanation of involuntary unemployment.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles in its series ULB Institutional Repository with number 2013/5909.

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Date of creation: Jan 1998
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Publication status: Published in: European Economic Review (1998) v.42 n° 1,p.1-34
Handle: RePEc:ulb:ulbeco:2013/5909

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  1. Fehr, Ernst & Kirchsteiger, George & Riedl, Arno, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(2), pages 437-59, May.
  2. Fehr, Ernst & Kirchsteiger, Georg, 1994. "Insider Power, Wage Discrimination and Fairness," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 571-83, May.
  3. Georg Kirchsteiger & Ernst Fehr & Arno Riedl, 1996. "Involuntary unemployment and non-compensating wage differentials in an experimental labour market," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5917, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  4. Fehr, Ernst, et al, 1998. "When Social Norms Overpower Competition: Gift Exchange in Experimental Labor Markets," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(2), pages 324-51, April.
  5. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
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  7. Plott, Charles R & Smith, Vernon L, 1978. "An Experimental Examination of Two Exchange Institutions," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 45(1), pages 133-53, February.
  8. Bolton, Gary E, 1991. "A Comparative Model of Bargaining: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1096-136, December.
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  13. Gary E Bolton & Rami Zuwick, 2010. "Anonymity versus punishments in ultimatum bargaining," Levine's Working Paper Archive 826, David K. Levine.
  14. Roth, Alvin E. & Vesna Prasnikar & Masahiro Okuno-Fujiwara & Shmuel Zamir, 1991. "Bargaining and Market Behavior in Jerusalem, Ljubljana, Pittsburgh, and Tokyo: An Experimental Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1068-95, December.
  15. repec:att:wimass:9323 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Akerlof, George A & Yellen, Janet L, 1990. "The Fair Wage-Effort Hypothesis and Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(2), pages 255-83, May.
  17. Georg Kirchsteiger, 1994. "The role of envy in ultimatum games," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5925, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  18. Guth, Werner & Tietz, Reinhard, 1990. "Ultimatum bargaining behavior : A survey and comparison of experimental results," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 417-449, September.
  19. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1991. "Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1039-61, November.
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  21. Akerlof, George A, 1982. "Labor Contracts as Partial Gift Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 543-69, November.
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