Journal Article

Shifting the Blame: On Delegation and Responsibility

Björn Bartling and Urs Fischbacher

in The Review of Economic Studies

Published on behalf of Review of Economic Studies Ltd

Volume 79, issue 1, pages 67-87
Published in print January 2012 | ISSN: 0034-6527
Published online August 2011 | e-ISSN: 1467-937X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/restud/rdr023
Shifting the Blame: On Delegation and Responsibility

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To fully understand the motives for delegating a decision right, it is important to study responsibility attributions for outcomes of delegated decisions. We conducted laboratory experiments in which subjects could either choose a fair allocation or an unfair allocation or delegate the choice, and we used a punishment option to elicit responsibility attributions. Our results show that, first, responsibility attribution can be effectively shifted and, second, this can constitute a strong motive for the delegation of a decision right. Moreover, we propose a simple measure of responsibility and show that this measure outperforms measures based on inequity aversion or reciprocity in predicting punishment behaviour.

Keywords: Delegation; Responsibility; Punishment; Decision rights; C91; D63

Journal Article.  11770 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Welfare Economics ; Design of Experiments

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