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"Becoming Just by Eliminating Injustice: The Emergence of Property in Virtual Economies."

This chapter explores how property emerges as a moral convention. To understand this process I make use of several laboratory experiments on property in its nascence. A key feature of these economic experiments is that the participants can chat in real time with each other regarding their activities. These candid conversations in the heat of the moment comprise the data by which I explain how a group of anonymous strangers become just by mutually respecting what is mine and what is thine. The dialogue also illustrates what it means for someone to be unjust, namely, to inflict real and positive harm on others. As a window into the minds of the participants, the language further supports Adam Smith’s claim that the resentment of harm undergirds our moral sense of property. We become just in terms of respecting the boundaries of property through the fellow-feeling of the ill desert of harm. 

"Human and Monkey Responses in a Symmetric Game of Conflict with Asymmetric Equilibria," with Sarah F. Brosnan, Sara A. Price, Kelly Leverett, Laurent Prétôt, and Michael Beran.

To better understand the evolutionary history of human decision making, we compare the behavior of humans to those of two monkey species. We extend our earlier work on symmetric coordination games to a symmetric game of conflict with two asymmetric equilibria. Our prediction was that anti-matching would be more difficult than matching with simultaneous moves. To our surprise, not only did rhesus macaques frequently play one asymmetric Nash equilibrium, but so did capuchin monkeys, whose play in the coordination game was literally not distinguishable from randomness. Humans were the only species to play both asymmetric equilibria in a repeated game.

"Language and Cooperation in Hominin Scavenging," with Samuel R. Harris. A video demonstration of the software is also available here.

Bickerton (2009, 2014) hypothesizes that language emerged as the solution to a scavenging problem faced by proto-humans. We design a virtual world to explore how people use words to persuade others to work together for a common end. By gradually reducing the vocabularies that the participants can use, we trace the process of solving the hominin scavenging problem. Our experiment changes the way we think about social dilemmas. Instead of asking how does a group overcome the self-interest of its constituents, the question becomes, how do constituents persuade one another to work together for a common end that yields a common benefit?

"The Meaning of Property in Things."

What is property, and why does our species happen to have it? In this paper I explore how Homo sapiens acquires and cognizes the custom of property and why this might be relevant to understanding how property works in the 21st century. I first draw upon anthropology, archeology, biology, cognitive linguistics, and law to argue that humans locate the meaning of property within a thing. Then in the second part I use these observations to reinterpret established philosophical, legal, and economic foundations of property. My theory also generates a testable hypothesis.

"Smile, Dictator, You’re on Camera," with Peter D. Abbate, Alexander B. Bogart, Joy Buchanan, Michael A. Gamboa, Matthew K. McMahon, and Matthew Simpson. A sample of the dictator decisions is available here.

"The Social Welfare of Civil Forfeiture," with Michael Preciado. A video demonstration of the software is available here.

Using a laboratory experiment we explore competing claims of social welfare for civil forfeiture. Experiment participants are tasked with making trade-offs in allocating resources “to fight crime” with and without the ability to seize and forfeit assets. It is an open question whether the societal impact of reducing crime is greater in a world with or without civil forfeiture. Proponents of civil forfeiture argue that the ill-gotten gains of criminals can be used by law enforcement to further fight crime. Opponents claim that the confiscation of assets by law enforcement distorts the prioritization of cases by focusing attention, not on cases with the largest societal impact, but on those with the highest valued assets that can be seized. We find that the public is better off in a world without civil forfeiture.

This site was last updated 09/26/16.