A Note on the Design of Experiments Involving Public Goods

6 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2009 Last revised: 6 Oct 2009

Philip E. Graves

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Economics

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Date Written: October 4, 2009


Concern about potential free riding in the provision of public goods has a long history. More recently, experimental economists have turned their attention to the conditions under which free riding would be expected to occur. A model of free riding is provided here which demonstrates that existing experimental approaches fail to explore a potentially important real-world dimension of free riding. In a cash-in-advance economy, free riding becomes a two-stage problem, while existing experiments only address the second stage. That is, one would expect households with high demands for public goods relative to private goods to generate less income than households preferring ordinary private goods, because the former are unable to individually increment the public good and leisure is valuable. Existing experiments start with a given number of “tokens” for each decision-maker, effectively only addressing the second stage of the free riding problem: out of a given income under what conditions does free riding become a problem. The recommended solution to this problem is to modify experiments to allow for the generation of income prior to the decision of how to allocate that income between private and public goods. Doing so will allow a fuller understanding of the full nature of free riding behavior.

Keywords: Decision making, Choice behavior, Public Goods, Experimental Economics, Altruism, Fairness, Conditional Reciprocity

JEL Classification: A10, C9, C92, D3, D12, D64, D81, H41, Q5

Suggested Citation

Graves, Philip E., A Note on the Design of Experiments Involving Public Goods (October 4, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1471057 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1471057

Philip E. Graves (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Economics ( email )

Campus Box 256
Boulder, CO 80309-0256
United States

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