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Social Preferences, Beliefs, and the Dynamics of Free Riding in Public Goods Experiments

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  • Urs Fischbacher
  • Simon Gachter

Abstract

One lingering puzzle is why voluntary contributions to public goods decline over time in experimental and real-world settings. We show that the decline of cooperation is driven by individual preferences for imperfect conditional cooperation. Many people's desire to contribute less than others, rather than changing beliefs of what others will contribute over time or people's heterogeneity in preferences makes voluntary cooperation fragile. Universal free riding thus eventually emerges, despite the fact that most people are not selfish. (D12, D 83, H41, Z13)

Suggested Citation

  • Urs Fischbacher & Simon Gachter, 2010. "Social Preferences, Beliefs, and the Dynamics of Free Riding in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(1), pages 541-556, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:100:y:2010:i:1:p:541-56
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.100.1.541
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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