The Social Contract Lab

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Thematic overview

The Social Contract Laboratory (SoCoLab) serves to conduct laboratory experiments in regulatory research and teaching. The focus is on the experimental analysis of social and economic ground rules, within the framework of which society members and economic actors make their economic and institutional decisions on an individual as well as on a collective level. Both questions of the suitability and confirmation of normative constructs (e.g. the adequacy of theories of how basic rules should be decided upon) and problems of positive analysis (e.g. how do members of society decide upon common basic rules; which basic problems such as justice, efficiency and societal sustainability and their specific form play a role) are the subject of investigation here. SoCoLab is fundamentally interdisciplinary. To this end, approaches and methods from political philosophy, empirical social research, political science, sociology, psychology, and economics, among others, are incorporated into the events and investigations. It is thus an interdisciplinary cross-section of a modern social contract and order theory. SoCoLab is consequently open to participation from other disciplines and can accordingly also be used in interdisciplinary alliances for study and research. Social contract theory plays a prominent role in modern economics of order.

In contrast to many other behaviors, individual and collective voting behavior at the level of social rule-setting has not yet been much explored by experimental economic research. Yet initial studies show that decision-making behavior at the level of rule formation comes close to the claims of social contract theory, ordoliberalism and constitutional economics, which are often criticized as artificial. Requirements of unanimous rule-making and decisions under social contract uncertainty (veil of uncertainty and veil of ignorance, respectively) can be tested and specified. Experiments can help to investigate the scope of conventional assumptions or, if necessary, to formulate new basic rules of behavior and patterns of behavior that determine the basic order of a society. In order to offer students of the Faculty of Economic Sciences as well as those of related disciplines (e.g. psychology, sociology, political science, philosophy, but also neuroscience) a didactically appealing insight into this approach, which is not very common in teaching, simple experiments are carried out as teaching and learning projects of the SoCoLab with intensive participation and supervision of students. The didactic goal is to study whether, how and to what e.g. students (may) agree socially under laboratory conditions in the context of a certain rule-setting or order problem. Students should learn to

  • critically examine basic subject matter as well as empirical methods,
  • consider alternative teaching approaches,
  • gain an insight into empirically based social contract theory,
  • learn to conduct independent experiments in the field of social contract and social order theory in the context of later theses or advanced research

Examples for the thematic orientation of SoCoLab experiments (classroom experiments, computerized experiments, field experiments, online surveys) are

  • Social contract determination of income distribution norms
  • Experiments on the existence and nature of the veil of uncertainty
  • Occurrence of constitutional utilitarian voters
  • Relevance of certain fairness norms: Rule preferences and rule determination
  • Veto Voters and Outlaws: Participation Experiment on Person Exclusion at the Social Contract Level
  • Experiments on the level of abstraction of constitutional rules
  • Choosing between dictatorship and democracy: experiments on constitutionally desired forms of rule
  • Hobbesian anarchic jungle vs. Lockean productive anarchy at the rule-making level
  • Explicit vs. implicit social contracts: Constitutional rules vs. social norms
  • Constitutional limits on government debt
  • Importance of freedom from privilege at the social contract level
  • Regulatory rules in the tension between freedom and security
  • Regulatory rules on managerial pay via poison exchange experiments
  • Social contract decisions to limit political power
  • Social contract as social conflict resolution and/or coordination mechanism
  • Bottom up vs. top down constitutions
  • Experiment on adoption of social market economy, ordoliberalism or laissez-faire liberalism in basic social order
  • Politicization or privatization as a constitutional problem of regulation
  • From modus vivendi to stable constitutional rule
  • Enforcement and Compliance with Regulatory Policy
  • Experimental Studies on Rule Reform

Support provided

We are very pleased that the student body of the faculty for economics decided to sponsor our SoCoLab seminar summer 2022. The sponsorship serves to improve the seminar with regard to data collection. Thus, students can professionally acquire and evaluate observations for their own developed emprical study, which gives special training in empirical work.

The teaching project “Interaktive ökonomische Experimente in großen Lehrveranstaltungen: Das Mobile Großlabor” of the SoCoLab in the department is supported by the “Innovationsfonds” 2013 of the University of Freiburg.

SoCoLab has already received funding from the “Innovationsfonds” in 2010 and 2011 (respective competitions to support innovative teaching projects) as well as from the “Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft” of the University of Freiburg. We thank both institutions for their support.

University teaching award 2012

The close integration of research and teaching in the SoCoLab was recognized in 2012 with the “Universitätslehrpreis” of the University of Freiburg for the seminar “Social Contract Laboratory”.

Award by the student body of the faculty 2021

Prof. Bernhard Neumärker the Student Council Prize for very good teaching with an innovative offer and far-reaching commitment as the teacher of the seminar “Basic Income and Social Justice” in the Social Contract Laboratory [SoCoLab] of the summer semester 2021.

Seminars “Social Contract Lab” of the past years