Adding noise to the institution: an experimental welfare investigation of the contribution-based grouping mechanism
Real-world institutions dealing with social dilemma situations are based on mechanisms that are rarely implemented without flaw. Usually real-world mechanisms are noisy and imprecise, that is, which we call ‘fuzzy’. We therefore conducted a novel type of voluntary contributions experiment where we test a mechanism by varying its fuzziness. We focus on a range of fuzzy mechanisms we call ‘meritocratic matching’. These mechanisms generalize the mechanism of ‘contribution-based competitive grouping’, and their basic function is to group players based on their contribution choices—i.e. high contributors with high contributors, and low contributors with low contributors. Theory predicts the following efficiency-equality tradeoff as a function of the mechanism’s inherent fuzziness: high levels of fuzziness should lead to maximal inefficiency, but perfect equality; decreasing fuzziness is predicted to improve efficiency, but at the cost of growing inequality. The main finding of our experimental investigation is that, contrary to tradeoff predictions, less fuzziness increases both efficiency and equality. In fact, these unambiguous welfare gains are partially realized already at levels where the mechanism is too fuzzy for any high-efficiency outcome to even be a Nash equilibrium.