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When In Rome: Conformity and the Provision of Public Goods

  • Jeffrey Carpenter

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We ask whether conformity, copying the most observed behavior in a population, can affect free riding in a public goods situation. Our model suggests that, if free riding is sufficiently frequent at the start of a public goods game, conformity will increase the growth rate of free riding. We confirm this prediction in the experimental lab by showing that more free riding occurs when players have information about the distribution of contributions than when players know only the aggregate contribution level. As a stricter test, we econometrically estimate the dynamic on which the model is based and find that, controlling for the payoff incentive to free ride, players react significantly to the number of free riders in their groups. Further, conformity is significantly stronger when players have more information about the choices of others.

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File URL: http://www.middlebury.edu/services/econ/repec/mdl/ancoec/0217.pdf
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Paper provided by Middlebury College, Department of Economics in its series Middlebury College Working Paper Series with number 0217.

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Length: 32 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mdl:mdlpap:0217
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  1. Friedman, Daniel, 1996. "Equilibrium in Evolutionary Games: Some Experimental Results," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(434), pages 1-25, January.
  2. Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-02, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  3. Daniel Houser & Robert Kurzban, 2002. "Revisiting Kindness and Confusion in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1062-1069, September.
  4. Drew Fudenberg & David K. Levine, 1996. "The Theory of Learning in Games," Levine's Working Paper Archive 624, David K. Levine.
  5. Samuel Bowles, 1998. "Endogenous Preferences: The Cultural Consequences of Markets and Other Economic Institutions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 75-111, March.
  6. Jeffrey Carpenter & Peter Matthews, 2002. "No Switchbacks: Rethinking Aspiration-Based Dynamics in the Ultimatum Game," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0218, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
  7. Anderson, Lisa R & Holt, Charles A, 1997. "Information Cascades in the Laboratory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 847-62, December.
  8. Fischbacher, Urs & Gachter, Simon & Fehr, Ernst, 2001. "Are people conditionally cooperative? Evidence from a public goods experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 397-404, June.
  9. Ledyard, John O., . "Public Goods: A Survey of Experimental Research," Working Papers 861, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  10. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, . "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocitys," IEW - Working Papers 040, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  11. Dan Friedman, 2010. "Equilibrium in Evolutionary Games: Some Experimental Results," Levine's Working Paper Archive 393, David K. Levine.
  12. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, . "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," IEW - Working Papers 010, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  13. Bergstrom, Theodore & Blume, Lawrence & Varian, Hal, 1986. "On the private provision of public goods," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 25-49, February.
  14. Andreoni, James, 1995. "Cooperation in Public-Goods Experiments: Kindness or Confusion?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(4), pages 891-904, September.
  15. Gale, John & Binmore, Kenneth G. & Samuelson, Larry, 1995. "Learning to be imperfect: The ultimatum game," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 56-90.
  16. Timothy N. Cason & Vai-Lam Mui, 1998. "Social Influence in the Sequential Dictator Game," Monash Economics Working Papers archive-37, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  17. 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.
  18. Miller, John H. & Andreoni, James, 1991. "Can evolutionary dynamics explain free riding in experiments?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 9-15, May.
  19. Sethi, Rajiv, 1996. "Evolutionary stability and social norms," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 113-140, January.
  20. Jeffrey Carpenter & Peter Hans Matthews, 2004. "Social Reciprocity," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0229r, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
  21. George A. Akerlof, 1997. "Social Distance and Social Decisions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(5), pages 1005-1028, September.
  22. repec:dgr:uvatin:20000011 is not listed on IDEAS
  23. R. Isaac & James Walker & Susan Thomas, 1984. "Divergent evidence on free riding: An experimental examination of possible explanations," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 43(2), pages 113-149, January.
  24. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-77, October.
  25. Croson, Rachel T. A., 1996. "Partners and strangers revisited," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 25-32, October.
  26. Croson, Rachel & Marks, Melanie, 2001. "The Effect of Recommended Contributions in the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(2), pages 238-49, April.
  27. Keser, Claudia & van Winden, Frans, 2000. " Conditional Cooperation and Voluntary Contributions to Public Goods," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 102(1), pages 23-39, March.
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