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Voluntary Provision of Public Goods in Maharashtra

Culture, Community and Institutions

Mainstream economic theory holds that economic agents are purely self-interested players. However, individual preferences could be socially determined by sustained enculturation in contexts that emphasise and applaud cooperative behaviour that may lead to pro-social individual preferences. If this is the case, communities with long-established social norms of cooperation might make individuals behave more cooperatively even when selfish behaviour is guaranteed to go unpunished. Can communities where the norm of cooperation is culturally embedded solve social dilemmas better than communities which lack such cultures? Can such cultures be engineered in a relatively short span of time? These questions were evaluated through a finitely repeated public good game in two model villages of Maharashtra, known for local development achieved through voluntary labour, and two villages lacking such a history. We observed higher contributions to public goods in communities with histories of cooperation. And found that variations across individuals were significantly higher than variations across villages, indicating that village-wide cultures may not be as important as individual-level preferences.

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