Punishment of non-cooperators-free riders-can lead to high cooperation in public goods games (PGG). However, second-order free riders, who do not pay punishment costs, reduce the effectiveness of punishment. Here we introduce a "leader support system," in which one group leader can freely punish group followers using capital pooled through the support of group followers. In our experiment, participants engage in three stages repeatedly: a PGG stage in which followers decide to cooperate for their group; a support stage in which followers decide whether to support the leader; and a punishment stage in which the leader can punish any follower. We compare a support-present condition with a no-support condition, in which there is an external source for the leader's punishment. The results show that punishment occurs more frequently in the support-present condition than the no-support condition. Within the former, both higher cooperation and higher support for a leader are achieved under linkage-type leaders-who punish both non-cooperators and non-supporters. In addition, linkage-type leaders themselves earn higher profits than other leader types because they withdraw more support. This means that leaders who effectively punish followers could increase their own benefits and the second-order free rider problem would be solved.
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