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Pareto meets Olson: A note on Pareto-optimality and group size in linear public goods games


  • Pickhardt, Michael


In this paper I examine the relationship between Pareto-optimality and group size in linear public goods games or experiments. In particular, I use the standard setting of homogeneous linear public goods experiments and apply a recently developed tool to identify all Pareto-optimal allocations in such settings. It turns out that under any conceivable circumstances, ceteris paribus, small groups have a higher Pareto-ratio (Pareto-optimal allocations over total allocations) than large groups. Hence, if Pareto-optimality of an allocation is a property that makes such allocations acceptable and maintainable, small groups will find is easier to provide Pareto-optimal amounts of a public good than large groups. This is a novel reasoning for Mancur Olson's claim, in particular, with respect to what he has termed inclusive goods and inclusive groups.

Suggested Citation

  • Pickhardt, Michael, 2011. "Pareto meets Olson: A note on Pareto-optimality and group size in linear public goods games," CAWM Discussion Papers 48, University of Münster, Center of Applied Economic Research Münster (CAWM).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:cawmdp:48

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:68:y:1974:i:02:p:707-716_11 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Jennifer Zelmer, 2003. "Linear Public Goods Experiments: A Meta-Analysis," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 6(3), pages 299-310, November.
    3. Sascha Hokamp & Michael Pickhardt, "undated". "Pareto-optimality in Linear Public Goods Games," Working Papers 201171, Institute of Spatial and Housing Economics, Munster Universitary.
    4. Michael Pickhardt, 2005. "Teaching Public Goods Theory With a Classroom Game," The Journal of Economic Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 36(2), pages 145-159, April.
    5. Ananish Chaudhuri, 2011. "Sustaining cooperation in laboratory public goods experiments: a selective survey of the literature," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 14(1), pages 47-83, March.
    6. Brandts, Jordi & Schram, Arthur, 2001. "Cooperation and noise in public goods experiments: applying the contribution function approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 399-427, February.
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    More about this item


    Olson; Pareto; public goods; Pareto-optimality; linear public goods experiments; inclusive groups;

    JEL classification:

    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • C90 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - General
    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals

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