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Freedom of choice adds value to public goods - network seminar with Petter Holme

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Freedom of choice adds value to public goods - network seminar with Petter Holme

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Freedom of choice adds value to public goods

Public goods, ranging from judiciary to sanitation to parkland, permeate daily life. They have been a subject of intense interdisciplinary study, with a traditional focus being on participation levels in isolated public goods games (PGGs) as opposed to a more recent focus on participation in PGGs embedded into complex social networks. We merged the two perspectives by arranging voluntary participants into one of three network configurations, upon which volunteers played a number of iterated PGGs within their network neighborhood. The purpose was to test whether the topology of social networks or a freedom to express preferences for some local public goods over others affect participation. The results show that changes in social networks are of little consequence, yet volunteers significantly increase participation when they freely express preferences. Surprisingly, the increase in participation happens from the very beginning of the game experiment, before any information about how others play can be gathered. Such information does get used later in the game as volunteers seek to correlate contributions with higher returns, thus adding significant value to public goods overall. These results are ascribable to a small number of behavioral phenotypes, and suggest that societies may be better off with bottom-up schemes for public goods provision.