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Do markets erode social responsibility?


Bartling, Björn; Weber, Roberto A; Yao, Lan (2015). Do markets erode social responsibility? Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130(1):219-266.

Abstract

This article studies socially responsible behavior in markets. We develop a laboratory product market in which low-cost production creates a negative externality for third parties, but where alternative production with higher costs mitigates the externality. Our first study, conducted in Switzerland, reveals a persistent preference among many consumers and firms for avoiding negative social impact in the market, reflected both in the composition of product types and in a price premium for socially responsible products. Socially responsible behavior is generally robust to varying market characteristics, such as increased seller competition and limited consumer information, and it responds to prices in a manner consistent with a model in which positive social impact is a utility-enhancing feature of a consumer product. In a second study, we investigate whether market social responsibility varies across societies by comparing market behavior in Switzerland and China. While subjects in Switzerland and China do not differ in their degree of social concern in nonmarket contexts, we find that low-cost production that creates negative externalities is significantly more prevalent in markets in China. Across both studies, consumers in markets exhibit less social concern than subjects in a comparable individual choice context.

Abstract

This article studies socially responsible behavior in markets. We develop a laboratory product market in which low-cost production creates a negative externality for third parties, but where alternative production with higher costs mitigates the externality. Our first study, conducted in Switzerland, reveals a persistent preference among many consumers and firms for avoiding negative social impact in the market, reflected both in the composition of product types and in a price premium for socially responsible products. Socially responsible behavior is generally robust to varying market characteristics, such as increased seller competition and limited consumer information, and it responds to prices in a manner consistent with a model in which positive social impact is a utility-enhancing feature of a consumer product. In a second study, we investigate whether market social responsibility varies across societies by comparing market behavior in Switzerland and China. While subjects in Switzerland and China do not differ in their degree of social concern in nonmarket contexts, we find that low-cost production that creates negative externalities is significantly more prevalent in markets in China. Across both studies, consumers in markets exhibit less social concern than subjects in a comparable individual choice context.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Language:English
Date:2015
Deposited On:03 Feb 2015 16:30
Last Modified:25 Nov 2016 01:00
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:0033-5533
Additional Information:This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in the Quarterly Journal of Economics following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2014) doi: 10.1093/qje/qju031 is available online at http://qje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/01/23/qje.qju031.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qju031
Related URLs:http://dx.doi.org/10.5167/uzh-85623

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