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Insiders, outsiders, and the adaptability of informal rules to ecological shocks



The history of the world is strewn with the remains of societies whose institutions failed to adapt to ecological change, but the determinants of institutional fragility are difficult to identify in the historical record. We report a laboratory experiment that explores the impact of an exogenous ecological shock on the informal rules of property and exchange. We find that geographically induced tribal sentiments, which are unobservable in the historical record, impede adaptation post-shock and that inequality declines as wealth and sociableness increase. Quantitative measures of individual and group sociality account for some of the differences in successful or failed adaptation.

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  • Erik O. Kimbrough & Bart J. Wilson, 2012. "Insiders, outsiders, and the adaptability of informal rules to ecological shocks," Discussion Papers dp12-20, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
  • Handle: RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp12-20

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hoffman Elizabeth & McCabe Kevin & Shachat Keith & Smith Vernon, 1994. "Preferences, Property Rights, and Anonymity in Bargaining Games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 346-380, November.
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    5. Erik O. Kimbrough & Vernon L. Smith & Bart J. Wilson, 2008. "Historical Property Rights, Sociality, and the Emergence of Impersonal Exchange in Long-Distance Trade," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 1009-1039, June.
    6. Ellickson, Robert C, 1989. "A Hypothesis of Wealth-Maximizing Norms: Evidence from the Whaling Industry," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(1), pages 83-97, Spring.
    7. Bart J. Wilson & Taylor Jaworski & Karl E. Schurter & Andrew Smyth, 2012. "The Ecological and Civil Mainsprings of Property: An Experimental Economic History of Whalers' Rules of Capture," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(4), pages 617-656, October.
    8. Matthew J. Baker, 2003. "An Equilibrium Conflict Model of Land Tenure in Hunter-Gatherer Societies," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(1), pages 124-173, February.
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    16. Kimbrough, Erik O. & Smith, Vernon L. & Wilson, Bart J., 2010. "Exchange, theft, and the social formation of property," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 74(3), pages 206-229, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bart Wilson, 2015. "Further towards a theory of the emergence of property," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 163(1), pages 201-222, April.

    More about this item


    Experimental Economics; Rules; Ecological Shocks;

    JEL classification:

    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D7 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation

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