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Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments

  • Ernst Fehr
  • Simon Gaechter

This paper provides evidence that free riders are heavily punished even if punishment is costly and does not provide any material benefits for the punisher. The more free riders negatively deviate from the group standard the more they are punished. As a consequence, the existence of an opportunity for costly punishment causes a large increase in cooperation levels because potential free riders face a credible threat. We show, in particular, that in the presence of a costly punishment opportunity almost complete cooperation can be achieved and maintained although, under the standard assumptions of rationality and selfishness, there should be no cooperation at all. We also show that free riding causes strong negative emotions among cooperators. The intensity of these emotions is the stronger the more the free riders deviate from the group standard. Our results provide, therefore, support for the hypothesis that emotions are guarantors of credible threats.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 183.

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Date of creation: 1999
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_183
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  1. repec:oup:qjecon:v:114:y:1999:i:3:p:817-868 is not listed on IDEAS
  2. 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.
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  4. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  5. Hirshlifer, David & Rassmusen, Eric, 1989. "Cooperation in a repeated prisoners' dilemma with ostracism," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 87-106, August.
  6. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1998. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition and Cooperation," CEPR Discussion Papers 1812, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2000. "The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-05, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  8. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:108:y:1993:i:2:p:437-59 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Erev, Ido & Roth, Alvin E, 1998. "Predicting How People Play Games: Reinforcement Learning in Experimental Games with Unique, Mixed Strategy Equilibria," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(4), pages 848-81, September.
  10. Sethi, Rajiv & Somanathan, E, 1996. "The Evolution of Social Norms in Common Property Resource Use," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 766-88, September.
  11. Ernst Fehr & Armin Falk, 2003. "Wage Rigidity in a Competitive Incomplete Contract Market," Labor and Demography 0305001, EconWPA.
  12. Andreoni, James, 1990. "Impure Altruism and Donations to Public Goods: A Theory of Warm-Glow Giving?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 464-77, June.
  13. Andreoni, James, 1995. "Cooperation in Public-Goods Experiments: Kindness or Confusion?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(4), pages 891-904, September.
  14. Andreoni, James, 1988. "Why free ride? : Strategies and learning in public goods experiments," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 291-304, December.
  15. Guth, Werner, 1995. "An Evolutionary Approach to Explaining Cooperative Behavior by Reciprocal Incentives," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer, vol. 24(4), pages 323-44.
  16. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
  17. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 1997. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device: Experimental Evidence," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(4), pages 833-860, July.
  18. repec:oup:qjecon:v:108:y:1993:i:2:p:437-59 is not listed on IDEAS
  19. Andereoni, J., 1988. "Why Free Ride? Strategies And Learning In Public Goods Experiments," Working papers 375, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  20. Weimann, Joachim, 1994. "Individual behaviour in a free riding experiment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 185-200, June.
  21. Rachel T. A. Croson, 2007. "Theories Of Commitment, Altruism And Reciprocity: Evidence From Linear Public Goods Games," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 45(2), pages 199-216, 04.
  22. Jon Elster, 1998. "Emotions and Economic Theory," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 47-74, March.
  23. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000143, David K. Levine.
  24. Georg Kirchsteiger & Ernst Fehr & Arno Riedl, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5927, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  25. Colin Camerer & Teck-Hua Ho, 1999. "Experience-weighted Attraction Learning in Normal Form Games," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 67(4), pages 827-874, July.
  26. Palfrey, Thomas R & Prisbrey, Jeffrey E, 1997. "Anomalous Behavior in Public Goods Experiments: How Much and Why?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 829-46, December.
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