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Does Voluntary Participation Undermine the Coase Theorem?

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  • Avinash Dixit
  • Mancur Olson

Abstract

The Coase Theorem states that costless enforcement of voluntary agreements yields efficient outcomes. We argue that previous treatments fail to recognize the full meaning of voluntariness: it requires a two-stage game; a non-cooperative participation decision, followed by Coaseian bargaining only among those who choose to participate. We illustrate this in a simple public-goods model, and find outcomes ranging from extremely inefficient to fully efficient. However, the efficient equilibrium is not robust to even very small transaction costs. Thus we cast doubt on Coaseian claims of universal efficiency. Finally, we outline a kind of coercion that restores efficiency.

Suggested Citation

  • Avinash Dixit & Mancur Olson, 1997. "Does Voluntary Participation Undermine the Coase Theorem?," CESifo Working Paper Series 139, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_139
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    8. Holmstrom, Bengt & Nalebuff, Barry, 1992. "To the Raider Goes the Surplus? A Reexamination of the Free-Rider Problem," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 37-62, Spring.
    9. Crawford, Vincent P & Haller, Hans, 1990. "Learning How to Cooperate: Optimal Play in Repeated Coordination Games," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(3), pages 571-595, May.
    10. Mark Bagnoli, Barton L. Lipman, 1988. "Successful Takeovers without Exclusion," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 1(1), pages 89-110.
    11. Andreu Mas-Colell, 1980. "Efficiency and Decentralization in the Pure Theory of Public Goods," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 94(4), pages 625-641.
    12. Wittman, Donald, 1989. "Why Democracies Produce Efficient Results," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1395-1424, December.
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