Voluntary Contribution in the Field: An Experiment in the Indian Himalayas

The public goods problem (Hardin, The Tragedy of the Commons,1968), either viewed as a problem of extraction and optimal use of a resource, or that of shared contributions to the cost of a resource, has had a long history in the social sciences. Our experimental design, using methods in experimental economics, uses a standard Voluntary Contributions Mechanism (VCM) game with a moderately large group of ten and face-to-face communication between the participants. The subjects, who are villagers in the Gori-Ganga Basin of the Central Himalayas, are not re-matched every period. Our results are somewhat different from laboratory experiments using a similar design such as Isaac and Walker (1988a, 1988b). A noteworthy general observation is that even with a relatively low Marginal Per Capita Return (MPCR = 0.2) and a large group we find a steady contribution rate of around 55 per cent which diminishes slightly at the end of the session to around 50 per cent. We also delve into the demographic characteristics of our subject pool and find that individual contribution to the common pool is determined by gender, age, caste, literacy and the history of cooperation in the experiment. However, face-to-face communication is not seen to increase average individual contribution to the common pool.

Keywords: Voluntary contributions mechanism, field experiments, gender, caste, minority

JEL: C93; C72, H41; Q23