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Lords and Vassals: Power, Patronage, and the Emergence of Inequality

Robert Akerlof, Hongyi Li and Jonathan Yeo ()

No 14811, CEPR Discussion Papers from C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers

Abstract: This paper uses a laboratory experiment to study competitions for power-and the role of patronage in such competitions. We construct and analyze a new game-the "chicken-and-egg game"-in which chickens correspond to positions of power and eggs are the game's currency. We find that power tends to accumulate, through a "power begets power" dynamic, in the hands of "lords." Other subjects behave like their vassals in the sense that they take lords' handouts rather than compete against them. We observe substantial wealth inequality as well as power inequality. There are also striking gender differences in outcomes-particularly in rates of lordship. In a second treatment, where we eliminate patronage by knocking out the ability to transfer eggs, inequality is vastly reduced and the "power begets power" dynamic disappears.

Keywords: gender differences; inequality; institutions; patronage; Power (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D02 D31 D72 J16 O10 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020-05
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Working Paper: Lords and Vassals: Power, Patronage, and the Emergence of Inequality (2020) Downloads
Working Paper: Lords and Vassals: Power, Patronage, and the Emergence of Inequality (2020) Downloads
Working Paper: Lords and Vassals: Power, Patronage, and the Emergence of Inequality (2020) Downloads
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