Dilemmas of collective action

The challenges of coordination in collective action.

Cooperation problems writ large. How do a million people work together?

See also democracy etc.

Rabbit and stag game

A game theoretical model of coordination which throws some light on the problems of social 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. Casting it in in these terms is provoking.

Coordination on conflict

see economics of insurgence.

Collective action dilemmas for elites

An 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”. Those pigs squeal if you try to tell them what to do, though. It’s their shitpuddle, they worked hard to shit it.

Here I will discuss dilemmas of collective action for corporations; If every business wants highly paid customers and low-paid staff, whose job is it to provide customers? (The obvious solution of corporate tax providing a basic income to an jobless consumer class will be disregarded as politically untenable for now.) 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? I think in this case it might reduce to prisoner’s dilemma.

Eric Lonergan a reply to Chris Dillow, in reply to Chris Dillow, argiues

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.


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


Berg, Lars Petter. 2013. “Inequality, Collective Action and Democratic Transition: A Refined Investigation of the Relationship Between Inequality and Democratization.” https://www.duo.uio.no/handle/10852/36962.
Casper, Brett Allen, and Scott A. Tyson. 2014. “Popular Protest and Elite Coordination in a Coup d’état.” The Journal of Politics 76 (02): 548–64. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022381613001485.
Chater, Nick. n.d. “Would You Stand up to an Oppressive Regime or Would You Conform? Here’s the Science.” The Conversation. Accessed March 9, 2020. http://theconversation.com/would-you-stand-up-to-an-oppressive-regime-or-would-you-conform-heres-the-science-124469.
Chong, Dennis. 1991. Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement. American Politics and Political Economy Series. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Coleman, James. 1990. Foundations of Social Theory. Belknap Press.
Gordon, Deborah M. 2014. “The Ecology of Collective Behavior.” PLoS Biol 12 (3): e1001805. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001805.
Haddock, David D., and Daniel D. Polsby. 1994. “Understanding Riots.” SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2927656. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/1994/5/cj14n1-13.pdf.
Hardin, Russell. 1982. Collective Action. Baltimore: Published for Resources for the Future by the Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hauert, Christoph, Silvia De Monte, Josef Hofbauer, and Karl Sigmund. 2002. “Volunteering as Red Queen Mechanism for Cooperation in Public Goods Games.” Science 296 (5570): 1129–32. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1070582.
Heckathorn, Douglas D. 1996. “The Dynamics and Dilemmas of Collective Action.” American Sociological Review 61 (2): 250–77. https://doi.org/10.2307/2096334.
Holzinger, Katharina. 2003. “The Problems of Collective Action: A New Approach.” Preprints aus der Max-Planck-Projektgruppe Recht der Gemeinschaftsgüter. http://www.econstor.eu/handle/10419/85085.
Mielke, Jahel, and Gesine A. Steudle. 2018. “Green Investment and Coordination Failure: An InvestorsPerspective.” Ecological Economics 150 (August): 88–95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2018.03.018.
Montanari, Andrea, and Amin Saberi. 2010. “The Spread of Innovations in Social Networks.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (47): 20196–201. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1004098107.
Olson, Mancur. 2009. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Vol. 124. Harvard University Press.
Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions). Cambridge University Press.
———. 1998. “A Behavioral Approach to the Rational Choice Theory of Collective Action.” The American Political Science Review 92: 1–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/2585925.
———. 2000. “Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 14: 137–58. https://doi.org/10.2307/2646923.
Rao, Vijayendra. 2005. “Symbolic Public Goods and the Coordination of Collective Action: A Comparison of Local Development in India and Indonesia.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, no. 3685. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=786613.
Sarigol, Emre, David Garcia, and Frank Schweitzer. 2014. “Online Privacy As a Collective Phenomenon.” In Proceedings of the Second ACM Conference on Online Social Networks, 95–106. COSN ’14. New York, NY, USA: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2660460.2660470.
Singh, Naunihal. 2014. Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Young, H. Peyton. 2011. “The Dynamics of Social Innovation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (December): 21285–91. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1100973108.