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Social norms, endogenous sorting and the culture of cooperation


Fehr, Ernst; Williams, Tony (2018). Social norms, endogenous sorting and the culture of cooperation. Working paper series / Department of Economics 267, University of Zurich.

Abstract

Throughout human history, informal sanctions by peers were ubiquitous and played a key role in the enforcement of social norms and the provision of public goods. However, a considerable body of experimental evidence suggests that informal peer sanctions cause large collateral damage and efficiency costs. This raises the question whether peer sanctioning systems exist that avoid these costs and whether other, more centralized, punishment systems are superior and will be preferred by the people. Here, we show that welfare-enhancing peer sanctioning without much need for costly punishment emerges quickly if we introduce two relevant features of social life into the experiment: (i) subjects can migrate across groups with different sanctioning institutions and (ii) they have the chance to achieve consensus about normatively appropriate behavior. The exogenous removal of the norm consensus opportunity reduces the efficiency of peer punishment and renders centralized sanctioning by an elected judge the dominant institution. However, if given the choice, subjects universally reject peer sanctioning without a norm consensus opportunity – an institution that has hitherto dominated research in this field – in favor of peer sanctioning with a norm consensus opportunity or an equally efficient institution with centralized punishment by an elected judge. Migration opportunities and normative consensus building are key to the quick emergence of an efficient culture of universal cooperation because the more prosocial subjects populate the two efficient institutions first, elect prosocial judges (if institutionally possible), and immediately establish a social norm of high cooperation. This norm appears to guide subjects’ cooperation and punishment choices, including the virtually complete removal of antisocial punishment when judges make the sanctioning decision.

Abstract

Throughout human history, informal sanctions by peers were ubiquitous and played a key role in the enforcement of social norms and the provision of public goods. However, a considerable body of experimental evidence suggests that informal peer sanctions cause large collateral damage and efficiency costs. This raises the question whether peer sanctioning systems exist that avoid these costs and whether other, more centralized, punishment systems are superior and will be preferred by the people. Here, we show that welfare-enhancing peer sanctioning without much need for costly punishment emerges quickly if we introduce two relevant features of social life into the experiment: (i) subjects can migrate across groups with different sanctioning institutions and (ii) they have the chance to achieve consensus about normatively appropriate behavior. The exogenous removal of the norm consensus opportunity reduces the efficiency of peer punishment and renders centralized sanctioning by an elected judge the dominant institution. However, if given the choice, subjects universally reject peer sanctioning without a norm consensus opportunity – an institution that has hitherto dominated research in this field – in favor of peer sanctioning with a norm consensus opportunity or an equally efficient institution with centralized punishment by an elected judge. Migration opportunities and normative consensus building are key to the quick emergence of an efficient culture of universal cooperation because the more prosocial subjects populate the two efficient institutions first, elect prosocial judges (if institutionally possible), and immediately establish a social norm of high cooperation. This norm appears to guide subjects’ cooperation and punishment choices, including the virtually complete removal of antisocial punishment when judges make the sanctioning decision.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Working Paper Series > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
JEL Classification:D02, D03, D72, H41
Uncontrolled Keywords:Cooperation, punishment, endogenous institutions, public goods
Language:English
Date:April 2018
Deposited On:31 Oct 2017 11:58
Last Modified:29 Jul 2018 05:44
Series Name:Working paper series / Department of Economics
Number of Pages:41
ISSN:1664-7041
Additional Information:Revised version ; former title: Creating an efficient culture of cooperation
OA Status:Green
Official URL:http://www.econ.uzh.ch/static/wp/econwp267.pdf
Related URLs:http://www.econ.uzh.ch/static/workingpapers.php

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