Dilemmas of collective action

The challenges of coordination in collective action.

Cooperation problems writ large. How do a thousand people work together? A million? This is a scrapbook. But I am very interested in coalition games at the moment and their relationship to various types of fairness.

See also democracy etc.

Coalition games

Much to learn here, e.g. Brandt and Bullinger (2022);Aziz and de Keijzer (2011);Aziz and Brandl (2012);Aziz, Brandt, and Harrenstein (2013) TBC

Rabbit and stag game

A game theoretical model of coordination. This is pertinent in problems of, e.g. having democracy or of getting peer networks off Facebook. As seen in Duncan Sabien’s Group Rationality musing, and Zvi Mowshowitz on the Facebook exodus problem. TBC

Fair shares of group rewards

I’m thinking of Shapley values.

Coordination on conflict

See economics of insurgence.

Elite capture

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, On the Uses and Abuses of Identity Politics:

Elite capture, he explains, is a concept that emerged from the study of developing countries. It initially referred to the tendency of the upper class to gain control over foreign aid; in other words, the rich get richer. But the concept has also come to encompass the ways that elites appropriate political projects and monopolize attention.

Elite capture, Táíwò says, is “not a conspiracy” but rather “a kind of system behavior.” Systems are a major theme of the book, a theme Táíwò develops by drawing on the philosophy of games. Another motif is his impatience with the symbolic gestures and efforts to avoid “complicity” that have come to take precedence, in his view, over actual political outcomes.

See also his Boston Review piece, Identity Politics and Elite Capture.

Collective action dilemmas for elites

A special case of collective action problem that I pose, which is of interest to me. See e.g. Singh (2014).

In the state’s husbandry of the pigs of the economy, one might argue that the prime task is to ensure that said pigs “do not eat where they shit”.

However, each of the pigs has a self-interested view in being as lazy as possible in how it eats. This is the essence of the collective action for corporations; If every business wants highly paid customers and low-paid staff, whose job is it to provide customers? If every business wants state-provided infrastructure but must complain about their own personal share of the costs, which businesses are left holding the can? If every business knows that all their peers are lobbying to sell off the state assets for scrap, mightn’t they as well take a piece of the pie rather than be the only ones who were left out of the action?

Can you resolve this through a cartel? Our business won’t whine for special subsidy if yours doesn’t, we all win?

Eric Lonergan in a reply to Chris Dillow, argues

I should stress that it is incorrect to believe that vested interests do not act to protect their interests. But the specific interests of ‘capital’ at the current juncture of history are very unclear. Consider the lobbying of banks in the United States for further deregulation. Superficially, this presents itself as financial capital lobbying for its interests. But as an investor, I am totally unconvinced that this is in the interests of the shareholders of banks — regulations are barriers to entry (as Jamie Dimon has noted publicly). Deregulation usually results in credit booms, which are bad for the return on capital of the non-financial sector. As Mark and I argue in the book, the era of deregulation destroyed the bargaining power trade unions, but also set capital on a path of war with itself. Amazon, for example, is often presented as some evil capitalist semi-monopoly destroying our precious high streets (and who profited from these?). In practice, it operates as a marauding low-cost threat to all other capitalists with fat margins previously living in peace. Amazon’s valuation is treated as a scandal because it renders Jeff Bezos’s paper profits obscene. But what of the damage to other capitalists caused by a virtually zero cost of capital financing a maniacal blue sky investment philosophy? Warren Buffett correctly observed that the predictable winner from the internet was the consumer — that didn’t stop capital from throwing endless quantities of capital at it.

Insert Richard Hanania ref here too, I reckon.


Social capital. Development version, Bo Rothstein, How the Trust Trap Perpetuates Inequality.


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