Wednesday, 5 June 2013

cool paper of the week

I was in Lisbon last week, for a conference on Political Economy. Danila Serra presented what I thought was one of the most interesting papers. She asks what it takes for people to be good - not to cheat, etc. In many cases, good behavior can be induced if people's actions are observable. It turns out that this effect is not independent of the culture that people come from - students in their experiment from a high rule of law country responded big-time to being observed by others, while students from low-rule-of-law places just didn't care... The paper is here and the abstract is:

We experimentally investigate the extent to which social observability of one’s actions and
the possibility of social non-monetary judgment affect the decision to engage in rule breaking
behavior. We consider three rule breaking scenarios — theft, bribery and embezzlement — in the absence of any formal enforcement mechanism. By involving a student sample characterized
by cultural heterogeneity due to immigration of ancestors to the US, we are able to investigate
whether the effectiveness of informal social enforcement mechanisms is conditional on the
cultural background of the decision-maker. A total of 52 countries are represented in our
sample, ranging from Low Rule of Law countries such as Liberia and Nigeria to High Rule
of Law countries such as Sweden and Norway. Our data provide evidence that people with
different cultural backgrounds do respond differently to increased social observability of their
actions. In particular, while subjects that identify culturally with a High Rule of Law country
respond to social obervability and judgment by lowering their propensities to engage in rule
breaking, subjects that identify with Low Rule of Law countries do not. Our findings suggest
that development policies that rely purely on social judgment to enforce behavior may not
work with Low Rule of Law populations.

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