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Modes of Collective Action in Village Economies: Evidence from Natural and Artefactual Field Experiments in a Developing Country

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Document pages: 21 pages

Abstract: In a canonical model of collective action, individual contribution to collective action is negatively correlated with group size. Yet, empirical evidence on the group size effect has been mixed, partly due to heterogeneities in group activities. In this paper, we first construct a simple model of collective action with the free rider problem, altruism, public goods, and positive externalities of social networks. We then empirically test the theoretical implications of the group size effect on individual contribution to four different types of collective action, i.e., monetary or nonmonetary contribution to directly or indirectly productive activities. To achieve this, we collect and employ artefactual field experimental data such as public goods and dictator games conducted in southern Sri Lanka under a natural experimental situation where the majority of farmers were relocated to randomly selected communities based on the government lottery. This unique situation enables us to identify the causal effects of community size on collective action. We find that the levels of collective action can be explained by the social preferences of farmers. We also show evidence of free riding by self-interested households with no landholdings. The pattern of collective action, however, differs significantly by mode of activity — collective action that is directly rather than indirectly related to production is less likely to suffer from the free rider problem. Also, monetary contribution is less likely to cause free riding than nonmonetary labor contribution. Unlike labor contributions, monetary contributions involve collection of fees which can be easily tracked and verified, possibly leading to better enforcement of collective action.

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