Why do people contribute to public goods?

Steve Scalet
Binghamton University
February 20th, 2003, 4:00 to 5:00 pm
Morton 235

A variety of public goods are fundamental to a healthy civil society but the best way to produce and maintain these goods is a matter of dispute. Casual observations of our economic life suggest that we sometimes voluntarily contribute to public good enterprises even when we recognize the pull to free ride on the contributions of others. But economic theory predicts that agents will not contribute to these projects because of this free-riding problem. Thus, social scientists from a range of academic fields have actively pursued whether the anecdotal observations of economic life withstand carefully controlled replication in a laboratory setting. They do. These experiments, based on a voluntary contributions mechanism, have consistently yielded positive contributions to public goods projects. These results have brought to focus a question, “Why do agents contribute in the voluntary contributions mechanism?” Professor Scalet will examine how experimentalists have answered this question and the significance of these results for the social sciences and humanities.

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