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Threat and Punishment in Public Good Experiments

  • David Masclet
  • Charles N. Noussair
  • Marie-Claire Villeval

Experimental studies of social dilemmas have shown that while the existence of a sanctioning institution improves cooperation within groups, it also has a detrimental impact on group earnings in the short-run. Could the introduction of pre-play threats to punish have enough of a beneficial impact on cooperation, while not incurring the cost associated with actual punishment, so that they increase overall welfare? We report an experiment in which players can issue non-binding threats to punish others based on their contribution levels to a public good. After observing others' actual contributions, they choose their actual punishment level. We find that threats increase the level of contributions significantly. Efficiency is improved, but only in the long run. However, the possibility of sanctioning differences between threatened and actual punishment leads to lower threats, cooperation and welfare, restoring them to levels equal to or below the levels attained in the absence of threats. Les agents n'hésitent pas à sanctionner les resquilleurs dans des situations de dilemmes sociaux et cela a un effet positif sur la coopération. Toutefois, les mécanismes de sanction peuvent également générer des externalités négatives fortes sur les gains. Dans quelle mesure l'introduction de menaces non crédibles est-elle en mesure d'impacter positivement la coopération sans engendrer ces externalités négatives? Afin de répondre à cette question, nous avons réalisé une expérience dans laquelle les agents ont la possibilité d'annoncer combien ils seraient prêts à sanctionner les autres membres de leur groupe pour tous les montants possibles de contribution. Nous observons qu'introduire cette étape de menace a un effet positif sur la coopération. Toutefois, l'efficience en termes de gain n'est pas améliorée à long terme. La possibilité de sanctionner ceux qui punissent moins que ce qu'ils ont annoncé conduit les agents à réduire le niveau de menace et celui de la coopération.

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File URL: http://www.cirano.qc.ca/files/publications/2011s-08.pdf
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Paper provided by CIRANO in its series CIRANO Working Papers with number 2011s-08.

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Length: 42 pages
Date of creation: 01 Jan 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2011s-08
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  1. Denant-Boemont, L. & Masclet, D. & Noussair, C.N., 2007. "Punishment, counterpunishment, and sanction enforcement in a social dilemma experiment," Other publications TiSEM bf51dcf1-7064-41d1-8560-9, School of Economics and Management.
  2. Jeffrey Carpenter, 2002. "The Demand for Punishment," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0243, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
  3. repec:ner:tilbur:urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-284310 is not listed on IDEAS
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