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The Limits of Reciprocity for Social Cooperation

Vincy Fon

George Washington University - Department of Economics

Francesco Parisi

University of Minnesota - Law School; University of Bologna


George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 03-08

Reciprocity constraints facilitate the achievement of cooperative outcomes in many game-theoretic settings. Yet, in some situations the equilibrium induced by a reciprocity constraint may not be socially optimal. After presenting the case in which reciprocity yields privately and socially optimal levels of cooperation, this paper identifies the conditions under which reciprocity generates inefficient cooperation. Two groups of cases are presented. In one group reciprocity undershoots (i.e., the parties cooperate less than is socially optimal). In the other, more puzzling case, reciprocity constraints overshoot (i.e., the parties are induced to cooperate more than is socially optimal). This paper identifies the conditions for such occurrences. The paper then examines the ability of a reciprocity constraint to induce a reciprocal social optimum, where a social optimum requires equal levels of effort by the two parties, and identifies situations where reciprocity fails to induce such an optimum.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 25

Keywords: Reciprocity, Cooperation, Conditions for Social Optimum

JEL Classification: K10, D70, C7, Z13

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Date posted: March 4, 2003  

Suggested Citation

Fon, Vincy and Parisi, Francesco, The Limits of Reciprocity for Social Cooperation (2003). George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 03-08. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=384589 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.384589

Contact Information

Vincy Fon
George Washington University - Department of Economics ( email )
2115 G Street, N.W.
Monroe Hall, #366
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-7580 (Phone)
202-994-6147 (Fax)
Francesco Parisi (Contact Author)
University of Minnesota - Law School ( email )
229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

University of Bologna ( email )
Piazza Scaravilli 1
40126 Bologna, fc 47100
Feedback to SSRN

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References:  12
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