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It is Hobbes, not Rousseau: An Experiment on Social Insurance

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  • Antonio Cabrales

    ()

  • Rosemarie Nagel

    ()

  • Jose V. Rodr?guez Mora

    ()

Abstract

We perform an experiment on social insurance to provide a laboratory replica of some important features of the welfare state. In the experiment, all individuals in a group decide whether to make a costly effort, which produces a random (independent) outcome for each one of them. The group members then vote on whether to redistribute the resulting and commonly known total sum of earnings equally amongst themselves. This game has two equilibria, if played once. In one of them, all players make effort and there is little redistribution. In the other one, there is no effort and nothing to redistribute. A solution to the repeated game allows for redistribution and high effort, by the threat to revert to the worst of these equilibria. Our results show that redistribution with high effort is not sustainable. The main reason for the absence of redistribution is that rich agents do not act differently depending on whether the poor have worked hard or not. There is no social contract by which redistribution may be sustained by the threat of punishing the poor if they do not exert effort. Thus, the explanation of the behavior of the subjects lies in Hobbes, not in Rousseau.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Siena in its series Labsi Experimental Economics Laboratory University of Siena with number 019.

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Date of creation: Sep 2007
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Handle: RePEc:usi:labsit:019

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Keywords: Social insurance; political equilibrium; voting; multiple equilibria;

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References

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  1. Lindbeck, Assar & Nyberg, Sten & Weibull, Jörgen W., 1997. "Social Norms and Economic Incentives in the Welfare State," Working Paper Series 476, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
  2. Schram, Arthur & Sonnemans, Joep, 1996. "Why people vote: Experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 17(4), pages 417-442, August.
  3. Alberto Alesina & George-Marios Angeletos, 2005. "Fairness and Redistribution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 960-980, September.
  4. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1999. "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Munich Reprints in Economics 20650, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  5. Hassler, John & Mora, Jose & Storesletten, Kjetil & Zilibotti, Fabrizio, 2002. "The Survival of the Welfare State," Seminar Papers 704, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  6. Tyran, Jean-Robert & Sausgruber, Rupert, 2006. "A little fairness may induce a lot of redistribution in democracy," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 469-485, February.
  7. Berninghaus, Siegfried K. & Ehrhart, Karl-Martin, 1998. "Time horizon and equilibrium selection in tacit coordination games: Experimental results," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 231-248, October.
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Cited by:
  1. Wolfgang Höchtl & Rupert Sausgruber & Jean-Robert Tyran, 2011. "Inequality Aversion and Voting on Redistribution," Discussion Papers 11-18, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.

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