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Selfish Economists? A Means of Generating Classroom Involvement


Catherine S. Elliott


Public Goods


Non-computerized experiment


Over the past several years, two points made by authors in Classroom Expernomics have changed the way I teach my Intermediate Microeconomic Theory students about the free-rider paradox. First, Hoaas and Drouillard [1994, p. 6] warned that participation in a public goods experiment was not sufficient to understand the paradox, and advised "post-experiment explanation." Second, Stodder [1994, pp. 1-2] persuasively argued that in many classrooms the voluntary contributions motive is "denigrated," either intentionally or without thought. In response to the first point, I employ a straightforward all-or-nothing voluntary contributions game. The length of the game is significantly shorter than the more common tokens-distribution game--leaving more time afterwards for immediate classroom dialogue. Further, the characteristics of the game are easily explained. In response to the second point, I summarize the students' contribution rates in chart form and use the recent articles in the Winter 1996 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives as a springboard for discussion of the implications of and motivations behind their own and others' choices.


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