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The Paradox of Power

In: Handbook of Experimental Economics Results


  • Durham, Yvonne
  • Hirshleifer, Jack
  • Smith, Vernon L.


In power struggles, the strong might be expected to grow ever stronger and the weak weaker still. But in actuality, poorer or smaller combatants often end up improving their position relative to richer or larger ones. This is the paradox of power. The explanation is that initially poorer contenders are rationally motivated to fight harder, to invest relatively more in conflictual activity. Only when the decisiveness of conflict is sufficiently high does the richer side gain relatively in terms of achieved income. Among other things, the paradox of power explains political redistributions of income from the rich to the poor.
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  • Durham, Yvonne & Hirshleifer, Jack & Smith, Vernon L., 2008. "The Paradox of Power," Handbook of Experimental Economics Results, in: Charles R. Plott & Vernon L. Smith (ed.), Handbook of Experimental Economics Results, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 16, pages 127-137, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:expchp:1-16

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    JEL classification:

    • C - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods


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