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Thou shalt not steal: Taking aversion with legal property claims

Marco Faillo, Matteo Rizzolli and Stephan Tontrup

Journal of Economic Psychology, 2019, vol. 71, issue C, 88-101

Abstract: Do people have an innate respect for property? In the literature, there is controversy about whether human subjects are taking averse. We implemented a dictator game with a symmetric action space to address potential misconceptions and framing and demand effects that may be responsible for the contradictory findings. Misconceptions can occur as a result of unclear property rights, while framing and demand effects can occur if anonymity is not preserved. Our paper is the first to implement both a strict double-blind anonymity protocol and clear property rights. We established clear property claims by asking subjects in our legal treatment to bring their own property to the experiment. In the effort treatment, the experimenter transferred the property publicly to subjects after they completed a real effort task. Our data suggest that without social enforcement, respect for property is low. Yet, the taking rate significantly differs from the theoretically predicted maximum. Consistent with the Lockean theory of property, respect for property grows when the entitlement is legitimized by the labor the owner had to invest to acquire it.

Keywords: Property rights; Taking aversion; Dictator game; Symmetric action space; Double-blind anonymity; Earned entitlements; Tangibility (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C91 D23 K11 P14 P26 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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