Searching for Evidence of Alternative Preferences, Public as Opposed to Private
Important economic thinkers such as Sen, Arrow and Harsanyi have argued for the existence of multiple preference orderings, allowing individuals to make choices, both when only private welfare is at stake and when the good of some collective is involved. Further, recent literature has shown that the presence of altruistic, as opposed to "private", preferences may have important implications for environmental regulation and the optimal provision of public goods. However, only limited empirical work has been carried out to test for the presence of such preferences. This paper presents an empirical study, done in Denmark and the US, that supports the existence of such preferences. More precisely, the study finds that in both countries expressions of two types of altruistic preferences can be triggered in a predictable, controllable way by small framing changes in a questionnaire. It is suggested that the method used may itself be useful in further studies testing for other varieties of altruism.
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