A fundraising mechanism inspired by historical tontines: Theory and experimental evidence
This paper was published in Journal of Public Economics in 2007
Andreas Lange, John List, Michael K. Price
University of Maryland
University of Chicago, NBER
University of Nevada, Reno
The tontine, which is an interesting mixture of group annuity, group life insurance, and lottery, has a peculiar place in economic history. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it played a major role in raising funds to finance public goods in Europe, but today it is rarely encountered outside of a dusty footnote in actuarial course notes or as a means to thicken the plot of a murder mystery. This study provides a formal model of individual contribution decisions under a modern variant of the historical tontine mechanism that is easily implemented by private charities. Our model incorporates desirable properties of the historical tontine to develop a mechanism to fund the private provision of a public good. The tontine-like mechanism we derive is predicted to outperform not only the voluntary contribution mechanism but also another widely used mechanism: charitable lotteries. Our experimental test of the instrument provides some evidence of the beneficial effects associated with implementing tontine-like schemes. We find that the mechanism has particular power in cases where agents are risk-averse or in situations where substantial asymmetries characterize individual preferences for the public good.