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Seminario IECON: Commitment to truth-telling and collective action

Presenta: Stéphane Luchini (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Aix Marseille School of Economics (AMSE))

Abstract:

Oaths have a decisive importance (at least) in the history of the West (Prodi, 1992), but they are not typical objects of economics. Instead of an oath, economics puts incentives to organise and discipline market behavior. In a world in which agents are sovereign, rational decision-makers and motivated by their self-interest, incentives are the main tool to ensure that people provide the necessary effort, respect contract agreements, etc.

An oath, on the contrary, is usually a “sacrament" (religious but not always) which aims to create a bond, a commitment between people or with a political body. A rational economic agent, however, would not consider an oath as being relevant for decision-making other than for instrumental reasons, if ever. Nevertheless, for more than a decade now, we have worked on economic behavior under oath in experiments. Our research consists of studying whether or not a truth-telling oath influences behavior in economic settings in which dishonesty pays. In the seminar, I will focus on two important issues of economics, coordination and cooperation, and show how an oath to tell the truth influences behavior in simple coordination and trust game experiments with communication. Throughout the seminar, I will keep in mind the quote from the French sociologist Marcel Mauss (1925) "It is our Western societies that have, very recently, made the man an "economic animal". But we are not yet all beings of this kind. [...] Homo oeconomicus is not behind us, he is ahead of us".

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