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Equilibrium Trust

  • Luca Anderlini

    (Georgetown University)

  • Daniele Terlizzese

    (EIEF and Bank of Italy)

We build a simple model of trust as an equilibrium phenomenon, departing from standard "selfish" preferences in a minimal way. Agents who are on the receiving end of an other to transact can choose whether to cheat and take away the entire surplus, taking into account a "cost of cheating." The latter has an idiosyncratic component (an agent's type), and a socially determined one. The smaller the mass of agents who cheat, the larger the cost of cheating suffered by those who cheat. Depending on the parameter values, the model can have a unique equilibrium level of trust (the proportion of transactions not cheated on), or two equilibria, one with high and the other with low trust. Thus, differences in trust levels across societies can reflect different fundamentals or, for the same fundamentals, a switch across multiple equilibria. Surprisingly, we find that these two possibilities are partially identifiable from an empirical point of view. Our model can also be reinterpreted as one with standard selfish preferences and an enforcement agency with limited resources that are used to catch and fine a subset of those who cheat. Lastly, we carry out a robustness exercise in which agents learn in a simple way from experience about how many agents cheat in society. Our results indicate that when there are multiple equilibria the high trust equilibrium is less robust than the low trust one.

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Paper provided by Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF) in its series EIEF Working Papers Series with number 0913.

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Length: 33 pages
Date of creation: 2009
Date of revision: Dec 2009
Handle: RePEc:eie:wpaper:0913
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  1. Phillips, P.C.B., 1989. "Partially Identified Econometric Models," Econometric Theory, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(02), pages 181-240, August.
  2. Guido Tabellini, 2008. "The Scope of Cooperation: Values and Incentives," CESifo Working Paper Series 2236, CESifo Group Munich.
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  4. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silane & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1996. "Trust in Large Organizations," NBER Working Papers 5864, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  10. Glaeser, Edward Ludwig & Laibson, David I. & Scheinkman, Jose A. & Soutter, Christine L., 2000. "Measuring Trust," Scholarly Articles 4481497, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  12. Knack, Stephen & Keefer, Philip, 1997. "Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross-Country Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1251-88, November.
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  14. Joel Sobel, 2002. "Can We Trust Social Capital?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 139-154, March.
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