Experimental games with farmers in coastal Bangladesh

10 Nov

My colleague Arijit Das, who is an economist, has designed a wonderfully simple game. He calls it the ‘public goods game’ and it  involves 5 players deciding whether or not to contribute to a common fund for polder maintenance. Another economist colleague of mine, Marie-Charlotte Buisson and I have been helping Arijit implement this game in villages of Bangladesh. This has been a fascinating experience so far and I can’t wait to play it with friends and family (provided that they want to play it, of course!). To me, what is interesting is the impact of a single free rider in the group and how quickly it erodes trust among others. But, what is even more interesting, is the fact that free riding is much less frequent than we  anticipated. Is it because, farmers feel strongly about polder maintenance and are willing to contribute? Or is it because they are putting forward their best behavior and cooperating most of the time, in the hope that we can somehow influence the government to sanction additional funds for repair and maintenance? We don’t know, not yet, that is. But we will have a good understanding after we have played a few more rounds in polders with different characteristics. And in the meanwhile, I have decided that, if I ever to go back to school, I will study behavioral economics — it simply fascinates me!

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