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Is altruism bad for cooperation?

Author

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  • Sung Ha Hwang

    () (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

  • Samuel Bowles

    () (Santa Fe Institute, University of Siena and University of Massachusetts)

Abstract

Some philosophers and social scientists have stressed the importance for good government of an altruistic citizenry that values the well being of one another. Others have emphasized the need for incentives that induce even the self interested to contribute to the public good. Implicitly most have assumed that these two approaches are complementary or at worst additive. But this need not be the case. Behavioral experiments find that if reciprocity-minded subjects feel hostility towards free riders and enjoy inflicting harm on them, near efficient levels of contributions to a public good may be supported when group members have opportunities to punish low contributors. Cooperation may also be supported if individuals are sufficiently altruistic that they internalize the group benefits that their contributions produce. Using a utility function embodying both reciprocity and altruism we show that unconditional altruism towards other members attenuates the punishment motive and thus may reduce the level of punishment inflicted on defectors, resulting in lower rather than higher levels of contributions. Increases in altruism may also reduce the level of benefits from the public project net of contribution costs and punishment costs. The negative effect of altruism on cooperation and material payoffs is greater the stronger is the reciprocity motive among the members. JEL Categories: D64 (altruism); H41 (public goods)

Suggested Citation

  • Sung Ha Hwang & Samuel Bowles, 2008. "Is altruism bad for cooperation?," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2008-13, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ums:papers:2008-13
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kenta Tanaka & Keisaku Higashida & Arvin Vista & Anton Setyo Nugroho & Budi Muhamad Ruslan, 2016. "Do resource depletion experiences affect social cooperative preferences? Analysis using field experimental data on fishers in the Philippines and Indonesia," Discussion Paper Series 143, School of Economics, Kwansei Gakuin University, revised Jun 2016.
    2. Attila Ambrus & Ben Greiner, 2012. "Imperfect Public Monitoring with Costly Punishment: An Experimental Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(7), pages 3317-3332, December.
    3. Ingela Alger & Jörgen W. Weibull, 2010. "Kinship, Incentives, and Evolution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(4), pages 1725-1758, September.
    4. repec:dau:papers:123456789/7309 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Nayoung Kim & Sung-Ha Hwang, 2015. "Evolution of Altruistic Preferences among Boundedly Rational Agent," Korean Economic Review, Korean Economic Association, vol. 31, pages 239-266.
    6. Centorrino, Samuele & Djemaï, Elodie & Hopfensitz, Astrid & Milinski, Manfred & Seabright, Paul, 2011. "Smiling is a Costly Signal of Cooperation Opportunities: Experimental Evidence from a Trust Game," IDEI Working Papers 669, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
    7. Kallis, Giorgos & Norgaard, Richard B., 2010. "Coevolutionary ecological economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(4), pages 690-699, February.
    8. Walid F. Nasrallah & Karim A. Cheaib, 2016. "An equilibrium model of how regulative and normative institutions influence micro-economic and organizational behavior," Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, Springer, vol. 22(4), pages 383-411, December.
    9. Jean-Marie Baland & Roberta Ziparo, 2017. "Intra-household bargaining in poor countries," WIDER Working Paper Series 108, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    public goods; altruism; spite; reciprocity; punishment; cooperation;

    JEL classification:

    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles

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