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Resource Scarcity, Spite and Cooperation

  • Sebastian Prediger


    (GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies)

  • Björn Vollan


    (University of Innsbruck)

  • Benedikt Herrmann


    (University of Nottingham)

Using an experimental approach, this paper examines how scarcity of natural resources affects people’s readiness to cooperate or engage in antisocial behavior. The experiments were carried out with pastoralists from southern Namibia, whose livelihoods greatly depend on grazing availability on collectively used rangelands. We split the study region into two areas according to exogenous differences in biomass production (a high-yield and a low-yield area) and conducted a one-shot public goods experiment and a joy-of-destruction experiment with pastoralists from both areas.Results from the joy-of-destruction experiment revealthat a substantial proportion of people are willing to reduce another subject’s income, although this comes at a personal cost. We show that this kind of spiteful behavior occurs twice as often in the area where resources are scarcer and hence competitive pressure is higher. By contrast, levels of cooperation are very similar across areas. This indicates that scarcity does not hamper cooperation, at least as long as a subsurvival level has not been exceeded. Our data further reveal a coexistence of prosocial and antisocial behavior within individuals, suggesting that people’s motivations depend on the experimental environment they are acting in. One possible explanation is that sujects are ready to cooperate when substantial net gains can be realized, but turn into spiteful money burners when there is no scope for efficiency improvements and the risk of “falling behind” is particularly salient.

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Paper provided by GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies in its series GIGA Working Paper Series with number 227.

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Length: 23 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:gig:wpaper:227
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  1. Prediger, Sebastian & Vollan, Björn & Frölich, Markus, 2011. "The impact of culture and ecology on cooperation in a common-pool resource experiment," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(9), pages 1599-1608, July.
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  25. Varghese, Shalet Korattukudy & Veettil, Prakashan Chellattan & Speelman, Stijn & Buysse, Jeroen & Van Huylenbroeck, Guido, 2013. "Estimating the causal effect of water scarcity on the groundwater use efficiency of rice farming in South India," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 55-64.
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