Prediger, Sebastian Vollan, Björn Herrmann, Benedikt
Year of Publication:
Working Papers in Economics and Statistics 2013-10
Using an experimental approach, this paper examines how scarcity of natural resources affects people's readiness to cooperate and to engage in antisocial behaviour. The experiments were carried out with pastoralists from southern Namibia whose livelihoods are highly dependent on grazing availability on their collectively used rangelands. We split the study region into two areas according to exogenous differences in biomass production, a high-yield and a low-yield area, and conduct a one-shot public goods experiment and the joy-of-destruction experiment with pastoralists from both areas. Results from the joy-of-destruction experiment reveal that a substantial fraction of people is willing to reduce another subject's income, although this comes at an own cost. We show that this kind of spiteful behaviour occurs twice as often in the area where resources are scarcer and hence competitive pressure is higher. By contrast, levels of cooperation are very similar across areas. This indicates that scarcity does not hamper cooperation, at least as long as a sub-survival level has not been reached. Our data further reveal a coexistence of prosocial and antisocial behaviour within individuals, suggesting that people's motivations depend on the experimental environment they are acting in. One possible explanation is that subjects are ready to cooperate when substantial net gains can be realized, but turn to spiteful money burners when there is no scope for efficiency improvements and the risk of "falling behind" is particularly salient.