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Gift exchange and reciprocity in competitive experimental markets

  • Georg Kirchsteiger
  • Ernst Fehr
  • Arno Riedl

One of the outstanding results of three decades of laboratory market research is that under rather weak conditions prices and quantities in competitive experimental markets converge to the competitive equilibrium. Yet, the design of these experiments ruled out gift exchange or reciprocity motives, that is, subjects could not reciprocate for a gift. This paper reports the results of experiments which do not rule out reciprocal interactions between buyers and sellers. Sellers have the opportunity to choose quality levels which are above the levels enforceable by buyers. In principle they can, therefore, reward buyers who offer them high prices. Yet, such reciprocating behaviour lowers sellers' monetary payoff and is, hence, not subgame perfect. The data reveal that a majority of sellers behave reciprocally and that this behaviour is anticipated by buyers. As a result, buyers are willing to pay prices which are substantially above sellers' reservation prices. These results indicate that reciprocity motives may indeed be capable of driving a competitive experimental market permanently away from the competitive outcome. The data, therefore, support the gift exchange approach to the explanation of involuntary unemployment.

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Paper provided by ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles in its series ULB Institutional Repository with number 2013/5909.

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Date of creation: Jan 1998
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in: European Economic Review (1998) v.42 n° 1,p.1-34
Handle: RePEc:ulb:ulbeco:2013/5909
Contact details of provider: Postal: CP135, 50, avenue F.D. Roosevelt, 1050 Bruxelles
Web page: http://difusion.ulb.ac.be

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  1. Plott, Charles R. & Smith, Vernon L., . "An Experimental Examination of Two Exchange Institutions," Working Papers 83, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  2. Ernst Fehr & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2003. "Insider Power, Wage Discrimination, and Fairness," Labor and Demography 0305003, EconWPA.
  3. G. Bolton, 2010. "A comparative model of bargaining: theory and evidence," Levine's Working Paper Archive 263, David K. Levine.
  4. Cason, Timothy N. & Williams, Arlington W., 1990. "Competitive equilibrium convergence in a posted-offer market with extreme earnings inequities," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 14(3), pages 331-352, December.
  5. Georg Kirchsteiger, 1994. "The role of envy in ultimatum games," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5925, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  6. Fehr, Ernst & Kirchsteiger, Georg & Riedl, Arno, 1996. "Involuntary Unemployment and Non-compensating Wage Differentials in an Experimental Labour Market," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(434), pages 106-21, January.
  7. Roth, Alvin E. & Vesna Prasnikar & Masahiro Okuno-Fujiwara & Shmuel Zamir, 1991. "Bargaining and Market Behavior in Jerusalem, Ljubljana, Pittsburgh, and Tokyo: An Experimental Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1068-95, December.
  8. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
  9. Smith, Vernon L, 1976. "Experimental Economics: Induced Value Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(2), pages 274-79, May.
  10. Bolton Gary E. & Zwick Rami, 1995. "Anonymity versus Punishment in Ultimatum Bargaining," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 95-121, July.
  11. Fehr, Ernst, et al, 1998. "When Social Norms Overpower Competition: Gift Exchange in Experimental Labor Markets," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(2), pages 324-51, April.
  12. Georg Kirchsteiger & Ernst Fehr & Arno Riedl, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5927, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  13. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard, 1986. "Fairness as a Constraint on Profit Seeking: Entitlements in the Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 728-41, September.
  14. J. Ochs & Alvin E. Roth, 1998. "An experimental study of sequential bargaining," Levine's Working Paper Archive 331, David K. Levine.
  15. Kachelmeier, Steven J. & Shehata, Mohamed, 1992. "Culture and competition: A laboratory market comparison between China and the West," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 145-168, October.
  16. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1991. "Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1039-61, November.
  17. Guth, Werner & Tietz, Reinhard, 1990. "Ultimatum bargaining behavior : A survey and comparison of experimental results," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 417-449, September.
  18. Akerlof, George A, 1982. "Labor Contracts as Partial Gift Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 543-69, November.
  19. Akerlof, George A & Yellen, Janet L, 1990. "The Fair Wage-Effort Hypothesis and Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(2), pages 255-83, May.
  20. repec:att:wimass:9323 is not listed on IDEAS
  21. Smith, Vernon L, 1982. "Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 923-55, December.
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