On the Regulation of Small Actors: Three Experimental Essays about Policies based on Voluntary Compliance and Decentralized Monitoring
Monitoring and enforcement are perhaps the biggest challenges in the design and implementation of environmental policies in developing countries where the actions of many small informal actors cause significant impacts on the ecosystem services and where the transaction costs for the state to regulate them could be enormous. This dissertation studies the potential of innovative institutions based on decentralized coordination and enforcement to induce better environmental outcomes. Such policies have in common that the state plays the role of providing the incentives for organization but the process of compliance happens through decentralized agreements, trust building, signaling and monitoring. I draw from the literatures in collective action, common-pool resources, game-theory and non-point source pollution to develop the instruments proposed here. To test the different conditions in which such policies could be implemented I designed two field-experiments that I conducted with small-scale gold miners in the Colombian Pacific and with users and providers of ecosystem services in the states of Veracruz, Quintana Roo and Yucatan in Mexico. This dissertation is organized in three essays.
The first essay, “Collective Incentives for Cleaner Small-Scale Gold Mining on the Frontier: Experimental Tests of Compliance with Group Incentives given Limited State Monitoring”, examines whether collective incentives, i.e. incentives provided to a group conditional on collective compliance, could “outsource” the required local monitoring, i.e. induce group interactions that extend the reach of the state that can observe only aggregate consequences in the context of small-scale gold mining. I employed a framed field-lab experiment in which the miners make decisions regarding mining intensity. The state sets a collective target for an environmental outcome, verifies compliance and provides a group reward for compliance which is split equally among members. Since the target set by the state transforms the situation into a coordination game, outcomes depend on expectations of what others will do. I conducted this experiment with 640 participants in a mining region of the Colombian Pacific and I examine different levels of policy severity and their ordering. The findings of the experiment suggest that such instruments can induce compliance but this regulation involves tradeoffs. For most severe targets – with rewards just above costs – raise gains if successful but can collapse rapidly and completely. In terms of group interactions, better outcomes are found when severity initially is lower suggesting learning.
The second essay, “Collective Compliance can be Efficient and Inequitable: Impacts of Leaders among Small-Scale Gold Miners in Colombia”, explores the channels through which communication help groups to coordinate in presence of collective incentives and whether the reached solutions are equitable or not. Also in the context of small-scale gold mining in the Colombian Pacific, I test the effect of communication in compliance with a collective environmental target. The results suggest that communication, as expected, helps to solve coordination challenges but still some groups reach agreements involving unequal outcomes. By examining the agreements that took place in each group, I observe that the main coordination mechanism was the presence of leaders that help other group members to clarify the situation. Interestingly, leaders not only helped groups to reach efficiency but also played a key role in equity by defining how the costs of compliance would be distributed among group members.
The third essay, “Creating Local PES Institutions and Increasing Impacts of PES in Mexico: A real-Time Watershed-Level Framed Field Experiment on Coordination and Conditionality”, considers the creation of a local payments for ecosystem services (PES) mechanism as an assurance game that requires the coordination between two groups of participants: upstream and downstream. Based on this assurance interaction, I explore the effect of allowing peer-sanctions on upstream behavior in the functioning of the mechanism. This field-lab experiment was implemented in three real cases of the Mexican Fondos Concurrentes (matching funds) program in the states of Veracruz, Quintana Roo and Yucatan, where 240 real users and 240 real providers of hydrological services were recruited and interacted with each other in real time. The experimental results suggest that initial trust-game behaviors align with participants’ perceptions and predicts baseline giving in assurance game. For upstream providers, i.e. those who get sanctioned, the threat and the use of sanctions increase contributions. Downstream users contribute less when offered the option to sanction – as if that option signal an uncooperative upstream – then the contributions rise in line with the complementarity in payments of the assurance game.
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