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Rural institutions, poverty and cooperation: Learning from experiments and conjoint analysis in the field

Juan-Camilo Cardenas, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation studies the problem of managing local commons or common-pool resources from the micro foundations of a collective action dilemma. The approach is mostly empirical, and combines field work, experimental economics and conjoint analysis techniques in three rural villages in Colombia where communities face the local commons dilemma being modeled. The conceptual framework is inspired by several approaches on the economics of institutional analysis. The specific questions focus on the problems of regulating the use of local commons, the rationality of humans in the decision to extract a local commons, and the effects that wealth, inequality and poverty may have on the behavior of the local commons users and the social outcomes. Through a set of field experiments, it is shown that when individuals were confronted with an imperfect external regulation, they began to exhibit less other-regarding behavior and, instead, made choices that were more consistent with pure self interest; that is, the regulation itself appeared to crowd out other-regarding behavior. Meanwhile the experiments confirm the wide evidence that simple and non-binding face-to-face communication among group members increases social efficiency by reducing free-riding. Further, the conjoint survey suggests that these communities would prefer a community-based form of governance of the local commons. Also using the field experiments, we found that wealth and inequality affect negatively cooperation rates in ways that contradict some of the conventional propositions that the poor should be less likely to cooperate in these dilemmas, or that unequal groups would be more likely to achieve cooperation through the contributions of the wealthier. The experimental results and the conjoint analysis show that these villagers are willing to cooperate in the management of the local commons by sacrificing short-term material income to provide conservation (public good) benefits to neighbors and others outside the community. In general the results suggest that there is potential for conservation of local commons by the rural poor, but that institutional factors such as externally-imposed regulations and group inequality may diminish the capacity of communities to solve the tragedy of the commons in a self-governed way.

Subject Area

Economics|Agricultural economics|Forestry

Recommended Citation

Cardenas, Juan-Camilo, "Rural institutions, poverty and cooperation: Learning from experiments and conjoint analysis in the field" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978482.