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Framed field experiment on resource scarcity & extraction: Path-dependent generosity within sequential water appropriation

Pfaff, Alexander, Vélez, Maria Alejandra, Ramos, Pablo Andres, Molina, Adriana
Ecological economics 2015 v.120 pp. 416-429
collective action, farmers, field experimentation, irrigation, models, probability
How one treats others is important within collective action. We ask if resource scarcity in the past, due to its effects upon past behaviors, influences current other-regarding behaviors. Contrasting theories and empirical findings on scarcity motivate our framed field experiment. Participants are rural Colombian farmers who have experienced scarcity of water within irrigation. We randomly assign participants to groups and places on group canals. Places order extraction decisions. Our treatments are sequences of scarcities: ‘from lower to higher resources' involves four rounds each of 20, 60, then 100 units of water; ‘from higher to lower resources' reverses the ordering. We find that upstream farmers extract more, but a lower share, when facing higher resources. Further they take a larger share of higher resources when they faced lower resources in earlier rounds (relative to when facing higher resources initially). That is inconsistent with leading models of responses to scarcity which focus upon one's own gain. It is consistent with lowering one's weight on others to, for instance, rationalize having left them little. Our results suggest that facing higher scarcity can erode the bases for collective actions. For establishing new institutions, timing relative to scarcity could affect the probability of success.