Original Paper

Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 325-353

First online:

Anarchy, groups, and conflict: an experiment on the emergence of protective associations

  • Adam C. SmithAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, George Mason University Email author 
  • , David B. SkarbekAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Perkins Library, Duke University
  • , Bart J. WilsonAffiliated withEconomic Science Institute, Chapman University

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In this article, we investigate the implications of the philosophical considerations presented in Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, by examining group formation in a laboratory setting where subjects engage in both cooperative and conflictual interactions. We endow participants with a commodity used to generate earnings, plunder others, or protect against plunder. In our primary treatment, we allow participants to form groups to pool their resources. We conduct a baseline comparison treatment that does not allow group formation. We find that allowing subjects to organize themselves into groups does not lead to more cooperation and may in fact exacerbate tendencies towards conflict.