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Published May 1995 | metadata_only
Book Section - Chapter

Public Goods: A Survey of Experimental Research


Environments with public goods are a wonderful playground for those interested in delicate experimental problems, serious theoretical challenges, and difficult mechanism design issues. In this chapter I will look at one small but fundamental part of the rapidly expanding experimental research. In Section 1, I describe a very simple public good experiment - what it is, what some theories predict, what usually happens, and why we should care - and then provide a methodological and theoretical background for the rest of the chapter. In Section 2, I look at the fundamental question: are people selfish or cooperative in volunteering to contribute to public good production? We look at five important early experiments that have laid the foundations for much that has followed. In Section 3, I look at the range of experimental research which tries to identify and study those factors which increase cooperation. In order to help those new to experimental work I have tried to focus on specific experimental designs in Section 2 and on general results and knowledge in Section 3. The reader will find that the public goods environment is a very sensitive one with much that can affect outcomes but are difficult to control. The many factors interact with each other in unknown ways. Nothing is known for sure. Environments with public goods present a serious challenge even to skilled experimentalists and many opportunities for imaginative work.

Additional Information

(c) 1995, by Princeton University Press. I thank the Flight Projects Office of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA for their financial support. For their intellectual help and advice, I thank Peter Bohm, Don Coursey, Robyn Dawes, Roy Gardner, Mark Johnson, John Kagel, Jamie Brown-Kruse, Susan Laury, Gerald Marwell, Rosemarie Nagel, John Orbell, Elinor Ostrom, Tom Palfrey, Charles Plott, Amnon Rapoport, Al Roth, Tatsuyoshi Saijo, Steve Slutsky, Richard Thaler, James Walker, most of the participants in the Conference of Experimental Research on the Provision of Public Goods and Common Property Resources at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, and especially Mark Isaac, without whom I would not have gotten even this far. Some of these strongly disagree with parts of my commentary. They may be justified. Formerly SSWP 861.

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August 20, 2023
August 20, 2023