Clean up your own mess: An experimental study of moral responsibility and efficiency

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although market-based environmental policy instruments feature prominently in economic theory and are widely employed, they often face public resistance. We argue that such resistance may be driven by moral responsibility, where citizens prefer to tackle the environmental problems that they have caused by themselves, rather than delegating the task to others by means of a market mechanism. Using a laboratory experiment that isolates moral responsibility from alternative explanations, we show that moral responsibility induces participants to take inefficient actions that reduce the earnings of the whole group of participants. We discuss the implications of this finding for the design and implementation of environmental policies.


External organisations
  • Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change
  • WZB Berlin Social Science Center
  • Technical University of Berlin
  • Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economics


  • Climate change, Environmental policy, Laboratory experiment, Market mechanism, Moral responsibility
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-146
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Public Economics
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Nov 1
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes