Cultural Transmission and the Colonial Legacy: Evidence from Public Good Games Along a Historical Border
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We conduct a standard public goods game in three small towns in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Until independence in 1947, these towns were assigned to (barely) opposite sides of a colonial border separating British India from the Princely States. One town fell on the British India side of the border on account of historical military conquest, unrelated to any geographic or commercial advantages. In line with the historical literature, we conjecture that past institutional differences related to the presence of outsiders and local governance between the Princely States and British India in Rajasthan engendered cultural differences regarding willingness to free ride on publicly provided goods, especially in the presence of “outsiders.” If this conjecture is correct, our experiment permits a test of whether such cultural differences were passed on inter-generationally; the towns have been under similar governance structures for decades, suggesting the modern institutions cannot account for any observed differences. We find that participants of the former Princely State town make lower contributions to mixed groups than do participants from the British India town. Moreover, we find these effects are driven by participants with strong family ties to the town.
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