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Market Failure or Success

The New Debate

Edited by Tyler Cowen and Eric Crampton

Recent years have seen the development of new theories of market failure based on asymmetric information and network effects. According to the new paradigm, we can expect substantial failure in the markets for labor, credit, insurance, software, new technologies and even used cars, to give but a few examples. This volume brings together the key papers on the subject, including classic papers by Joseph Stiglitz, George Akerlof and Paul David. The book provides powerful theoretical and empirical rebuttals challenging the assumptions of these new models and questioning the usual policy conclusions. It goes on to demonstrate how an examination of real markets and careful experimental studies are unable to verify the new theories. New frontiers for research are also suggested.
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Chapter 14: Public choice experiments

Elizabeth Hoffman


Elizabeth Hoffman A number of important issues in public choice have been addressed in experimental research.1 This chapter summarizes experimental research on the role of allocation mechanisms and agent behavior in the ability of groups of agents to achieve optimal allocations of public goods and externalities when there are gains from cooperation and coordination. This line of research includes studies of the free-rider problem with voluntary contributions; studies of the ability of small and large bargaining groups to achieve Pareto-optimal allocations of externalities or public goods; and studies of the design and behavioral implementation of synthetic allocation mechanisms for the allocation of public goods, externalities, and complex commodities. 1. THE FREE-RIDER PROBLEM WITH VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION MECHANISMS The free-rider problem is a central focus of experimental research in public choice.2 Economists, psychologists, and sociologists have jointed the debate, answers to which are central to a number of larger issues in public choice. The basic premise of economists is that individuals, acting in their own self-interest, will underprovide public goods and positive externalities and overprovide negative externalities, relative to those quantities that would maximize social welfare. In the limit, with pure public goods and appropriability, no public goods will be provided. Psychologists and sociologists counter both with arguments criticizing the basic assumptions of economic models and with the observation that societies do provide public goods for themselves, sometimes without governmental intervention. Economists, themselves, subscribe to two different ÔremediesÕ to the free-rider problem. One group suggests that the only solution is for government...

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