The emergence of norms from conflicts over just distributions

By:Luis Miller (CESS, Nuffield College, Oxford, Great Britain)
Heiko Rauhut (ETH Zurich, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
Fabian Winter (Max Planck Institute of Economics, Jena, Germany)
Why is it that well-intentioned actions can create persistent conflicts? While norms are widely regarded as a source for cooperation, this article proposes a novel theory in which the emergence of norms can be understood as a bargaining process in which normative conflicts explain the finally emerging norm. The theory is tested with a dynamical experiment on conflicts over the consideration of equality, effort or efficiency for the distribution of joint earnings. Normative conflict is measured by the number of rejected offers in a recursive bargaining game. The emerging normative system is analyzed by feedback cycles between micro- and macro-level. It is demonstrated that more normative cues cause more normative conflict. Further, under the structural conditions of either simple or complex situations, the convergence towards a simple and widely shared norm is likely. In contrast, in moderately complex situations, convergence is unlikely and several equally reasonable norms co-exist. The findings are discussed with respect to the integration of sociological conflict theory with the bargaining concept in economic theory.
Keywords:social norms, normative conflict, bargaining, cooperation, experiment


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