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Can Positional Concerns Enhance the Private provision of Public Goods?

  • Douadia Bougherara
  • Sandrine Costa
  • Gilles Grolleau
  • Lisette Ibanez

The social welfare effect of positional concerns over public goods is composed of two parts, a positional outcome and an outcome in terms of public goods provision. When agents have homogenous positional preferences over the public good, they overinvest in the positional public good, resulting in a zero-sum positional race with a higher provision of the public good. When agents differ in their positional preferences, the overall impact on social welfare is positive when endowments are homogenous and uncertain when endowments are heterogeneous. Given that the social loss from position-seeking is lower than the social gain from rank seeking, there is an increase of social welfare. If agents have different initial endowments, positional preferences might still be welfare enhancing as long as the positional loss does not exceed the gain in terms of public good provision.

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File URL: http://www.lameta.univ-montp1.fr/Documents/DR2010-04.pdf
File Function: First version, 2010
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Paper provided by LAMETA, Universtiy of Montpellier in its series Working Papers with number 10-04.

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Length: 14 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2010
Date of revision: Apr 2010
Handle: RePEc:lam:wpaper:10-04
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  1. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
  2. Charness, Gary B & Rabin, Matthew, 2001. "Understanding Social Preferences With Simple Tests," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt0dc3k4m5, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  3. Alpizar, Francisco & Carlsson, Fredrik & Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2005. "How much do we care about absolute versus relative income and consumption?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 405-421, March.
  4. Frank, Robert H, 1985. "The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 101-16, March.
  5. Frank, Robert H., 2008. "Should public policy respond to positional externalities?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(8-9), pages 1777-1786, August.
  6. Sara J. Solnick & David Hemenway, 2005. "Are Positional Concerns Stronger in Some Domains than in Others?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 147-151, May.
  7. Long, Ngo Van & Wang, Shengzu, 2009. "Resource-grabbing by status-conscious agents," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(1), pages 39-50, May.
  8. Ng, Yew-Kwang & Wang, Jianguo, 1993. "Relative income, aspiration, environmental quality, individual and political myopia : Why may the rat-race for material growth be welfare-reducing?," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 3-23, July.
  9. Hollander, Heinz, 1990. "A Social Exchange Approach to Voluntary Cooperation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(5), pages 1157-67, December.
  10. Robert H. Frank, 2005. "Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 137-141, May.
  11. Harbaugh, William T., 1998. "What do donations buy?: A model of philanthropy based on prestige and warm glow," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 269-284, February.
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