The Role of Self-Interest in Elite Bargaining

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. December 30, 2014, Vol. 111 no. 52

6 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2015 Last revised: 26 Jan 2018

See all articles by Brad L. LeVeck

Brad L. LeVeck

University of California, Merced

D. Alex Hughes

University of California, Berkeley

James H. Fowler

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences; UC San Diego School of Medicine

Emilie Marie Hafner-Burton

UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy

David G. Victor

UC San Diego, School of Global Policy and Strategy

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 30, 2014

Abstract

One of the best-known and most replicated laboratory results in behavioral economics is that bargainers frequently reject low offers, even when it harms their material self-interest. This finding could have important implications for international negotiations on many problems facing humanity today, because models of international bargaining assume exactly the opposite: that policy makers are rational and self-interested. However, it is unknown whether elites who engage in diplomatic bargaining will similarly reject low offers because past research has been based almost exclusively on convenience samples of undergraduates, members of the general public, or small-scale societies rather than highly experienced elites who design and bargain over policy. Using a unique sample of 102 policy and business elites who have an average of 21 y of practical experience conducting international diplomacy or policy strategy, we show that, compared with undergraduates and the general public, elites are actually more likely to reject low offers when playing a standard “ultimatum game” that assesses how players bargain over a fixed resource. Elites with more experience tend to make even higher demands, suggesting that this tendency only increases as policy makers advance to leadership positions. This result contradicts assumptions of rational self-interested behavior that are standard in models of international bargaining, and it suggests that the adoption of global agreements on international trade, climate change, and other important problems will not depend solely on the interests of individual countries, but also on whether these accords are seen as equitable to all member states.

Keywords: self-interest, bargaining, elites, ultimatum game, game theory

Suggested Citation

LeVeck, Brad L. and Hughes, D. Alex and Fowler, James H. and Hafner-Burton, Emilie Marie and Victor, David G., The Role of Self-Interest in Elite Bargaining (December 30, 2014). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. December 30, 2014, Vol. 111 no. 52. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2685428

Brad L. LeVeck

University of California, Merced ( email )

P.O. Box 2039
Merced, CA 95344
United States

HOME PAGE: http://faculty.ucmerced.edu/bleveck

D. Alex Hughes

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

HOME PAGE: http://d-alex-hughes.github.io

James H. Fowler

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

UC San Diego School of Medicine ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
MC 0507
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

Emilie Marie Hafner-Burton (Contact Author)

UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

HOME PAGE: http://gps.ucsd.edu/ehafner/

David G. Victor

UC San Diego, School of Global Policy and Strategy ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

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