public goods

Is Strong Reciprocity a Maladaptation? On the Evolutionary Foundations of Human Altruism.

One Sentence Summary:
Evidence is cited that strong reciprocity (repaying cooperation and punishing defection, cheating, violation of fairness norms), which plays a role in the provision of public goods and contradicts theories of selfish actors, is neither a maladaptation, nor explained in an evolutionary context by kin selection, reciprocal altruism, indirect reciprocity, or costly signaling.
Disciplines:
Biology
Cultural Evolution
Computer Science
Political Science
Sociology
Findings:
  • Humans repay gifts and punish cheaters of cooperation and fairness norms, even in anonymous, one-shot encounters with genetically unrelated strangers (strong reciprocity) – contrary to theories that all humans are strictly rational and strictly self-interested actors -- and evidence suggests that the presence of a high number of strong reciprocators in human groups was an evolutionary advantage.
  • Strong reciprocity plays a decisive role in the production of public goods – strong reciprocity in the provision of public goods is enabled by the metanorm of altruistic punishment, which makes possible the maintenance of norms that are good for groups at a cost to individuals.
Keywords:
altruism
cooperation
evolution
prisoners dilemma
public goods
punishment
reciprocity
reputation
tit-for-tat
Author(s) / Editor(s):
Published in:
MIT Press in Cooperation with Dahlem University Press
Date:
2003
One Paragraph Summary:

Economic games that probe of human behavior (including games that allow punishment of cheaters and non-reciprocators), together with research by biologists, zoologists, and primatologists have delivered strong evidence that traditional assumptions of universally strictly egoistic (rationally self-interested) behavior are at least partially wrong: People repay gifts and punish cheaters, even at a cost to themselves, even among strangers in one-shot games where there is not possibility of reaping future repayment. This practice of "strong reciprocity" has been explained evolutionarily as a maladaptation. The authors of this survey marshal evidence that theories of kin selection (altruism on behalf of genetic relatives that provides reproductive advantage to those who share the altruist's genes), reciprocal altruism (gifts that are made with expectation of eventual repayment by the giftee), indirect reciprocity (gaining a reputation that could pay off in future encounters with other members of the group) costly signaling (acts that cost the actor, but which signal desirability of the signaler as a potential ally or mate) do not sufficiently explain strong reciprocity – and evidence that contradicts these theories as explanatory mechanisms. A cultural evolution hypothesis is proposed: groups that are not closely genetically related can gain survival advantage in competition with other groups if a disproportionate number of strong reciprocators are present – and the presence of strong reciprocators is only possible when cheaters are punished. At the same time, other selection pressures drive the presence of purely selfish humans. Both types coexist because they have coevolved in human cultural practice. The authors offer a beginning, not an ultimate answer, to questions about strong reciprocity, suggesting further research.

Institutional Interplay: The Environmental Consequences of Cross-Scale Interactions

One Sentence Summary:
Cross-scale (vertical) interactions among resource regimes must be planned in such a way that maximizes the benefits of interaction by higher levels of social organization (comprehensive planning with respect to ecosystems management and equity) and minimizes the disadvantages (bias towards economically and politically powerful parties).
Disciplines:
Economics
Political Science
Sociology
Findings:
  • Similar to Ostrom's findings in Governing the Commons, local arrangements are shown to have certain advantages over higher levels of social organization. In addition to having less incentive for large-scale exploitation, local institutions have built-in mechanisms for responding to change in local conditions and are well understood by the user community. "They normally feature informal agreements that evolve on the basis of trial and error and that undergo de facto adjustments over time as a way of adapting to changing conditions in the relevant biogeographical systems or changing circumstances of the societies within which they operate."
  • There is less collective experience with the concept of public property when it comes to management of marine resources, as compared to that of land resources. This is partly because marine resources, if not sedentary like oysters or clams, pose a large excludability problem. States that acquired control over marine resources through EEZs have had variable success in sustainable management, depending on the varying coordination of cross-scale regimes.
Keywords:
capitalism
civil society
communication
cooperation
democracy
hierarchy
interdependence
public goods
Author(s) / Editor(s):
Published in:
The Drama of the Commons, National Academy Press
Date:
2002
One Paragraph Summary:

As the density of institutions increases in all levels of social space (the local, national and international arena), so does the number and importance of interactions between individual institutions, both horizontally (at the same level of social organization) and vertically (between different levels of social organization). In many cases, sustainability of patterns of land and sea use is determined by the interplay between modern and often formal national structures and often informal local systems. The creation of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) beginning in the 1970s helped to increase the role of national regulations in use of marine resources. In the case of land tenure, a trend throughout the modern era toward national control has only recently been reversed, through claims of ownership by indigenous groups. While local systems of control do not always act in the interests of sustainability of the resource, they are motivated differently than multinational corporations that can easily move operations without worrying about long-term costs; "as long as their informal socioeconomic systems remain intact, local peoples do not have the strong incentives to harvest timber for export, to extract hydrocarbons or nonfuel minerals to sell on world markets."

Governing The Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action

One Sentence Summary:
Any group that attempts to manage a common resource (e.g., aquifers, judicial systems, pastures) for optimal sustainable production must solve a set of problems in order to create institutions for collective action; there is some evidence that following a small set of design principles in creating these institutions can overcome these problems.
Disciplines:
Law
History
Economics
Political Science
Sociology
Findings:
  • People are trapped by the Prisoner's Dilemma only if they treat themselves as prisoners by passively accepting the suboptimum strategy the dilemma locks them into, but if they try to work out a contract with the other players, or find the ones most likely to cooperate, or agree on rules for punishing cheaters, or artificially change the incentive ratios - they can create an institution for collective action that benefits them all. This resonates with Peter Kollock's taxonomy of strategies for dealing with social dilemmas - one strategy is to change the rules of the game.
  • Changing the rules of the game to turn zero-sum games into non-zero-sum games may be one way to describe the arc of civilization for the past 8000 years: using symbolic media and social inventions, people have created institutions for collective action since the emergence of agriculture spurred the invention of writing. But for the most part, we've overcome obstacles and built these institutions blindly, without any systematic knowledge about how the game works. Ostrom takes an empirical approach: By examining legal records and other public documents, is it possible to determine whether every population overconsumes and under-provisions all common pool resource? She found that in many different cultures all over the world, some groups would find ways to overcome the obstacles that defeated others - by creating contracts, agreements, incentives, constitutions, signals, media to enable cooperation for mutual benefit.
  • Social dilemmas of multiple dimensions are obstacles on the path to creating institutions for collective action; these dilemmas must be overcome if institutions are to succeed or exist at all. Lack of information about the system can be an obstacle to agreement among the individuals who make up the system.Systemic information about salinization of wells was an obstacle to water-sharing agreements in California; individual water-users knew whether their wells were pumping salt, but none of them had compiled the information to see the overall pattern in the watershed, and no individual was willing to pay the price of gathering it. In this case, the US Geographic Survey had the data, thus overcoming this obstacle. Another obstacle, free-riding, creates the second order social dilemma concerning who will bear the cost of policing the rules once they are agreed upon. So although the overall formula is simple - social dilemmas can be solved through institutions for collective action that are built by overcoming known obstacles - in practice, each group that struggles to build an institution works under the handicap of being largely unaware of knowledge about how such institutions succeed and fail.
  • In comparing the communities, Ostrom found that groups that are able to organize and govern their behavior successfully are marked by the some basic design principles:
    • Group boundaries are clearly defined.
    • Rules governing the use of collective goods are well matched to local needs and conditions.
    • Most individuals affected by these rules can participate in modifying the rules.
    • The rights of community members to devise their own rules is respected by external authorities.
    • A system for monitoring member's behavior exists; the community members themselves undertake this monitoring.
    • A graduated system of sanctions is used.
    • Community members have access to low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms.
    • For CPRs that are parts of larger systems: appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.
Keywords:
public goods
prisoners dilemma
norms
cooperation
Author(s) / Editor(s):
Published in:
Cambridge University Press
Date:
1990
One Paragraph Summary:

Civilizations are institutions built on institutions built on institutions for collective action: empires and democracies, science and capitalism are the result of the evolution of institutions for collective action. Until recently, people who have learned to managed common resources have focused on the immediate problems of irrigation or grazing, not on the abstract dynamics of making agreements about solving those problems. One of the key findings of sociologists about successful management of common pool resource systems is that foremost among the necessities for success are good communication among the appropriators of resources and the widespread circulation of accurate knowledge about institutional frameworks, individual compliance behavior (reputation), and the ongoing state of the resource. Groups that learn to solve complex nested collective action dilemmas can harness more resources and create a larger pool of wealth, spread more widely, than groups that fail - in fact, in examples like the aggregation of knowledge through public science, the resource grows best when spread widely. Understanding the underlying design principles for successful collective action institutions can make the difference between success and failure in practice in a very wide range of environments, from forestry to urban transportation systems.

One Page Summary:

Definitions

The commons is a general term for shared resources in which each stakeholder has an equal interest. Studies on the commons include the information commons with issues about public knowledge, the public domain, open science, and the free exchange of ideas -- all issues at the core of a direct democracy.

Common-pool resources (CPRs) are natural or human-made resources where one person's use subtracts from another's use and where it is often necessary, but difficult and costly, to exclude other users outside the group from using the resource.. The majority of the CPR research to date has been in the areas of fisheries, forests, grazing systems, wildlife, water resources, irrigation systems, agriculture, land tenure and use, social organization, theory (social dilemmas, game theory, experimental economics, etc.), and global commons (climate change, air pollution, transboundary disputes, etc.), but CPR's can also include the broadcast spectrum.

Issues

Whenever a group of people depend on a resource that everybody uses but nobody owns, and where one person's use effects another person's ability to use the resource, either the population fails to provide the resource, overconsumes and/or fails to replenish it, or they construct an institution for undertaking and managing collective action. The common pool resource (CPR) can be a fishery, a grazing ground, the Internet, the electromagnetic spectrum, a park, the air, scientific knowledge. The institution can be a body of informal norms that are disseminated by word of mouth, enforced by gossip or religious stricture, and passed from one generation to another, or a body of formal written laws that are enforced by state agencies, or a marketplace that treats the resource as private property, or a mixture of these forms. In the real world of fishing grounds and wireless competition, CPR institutions that succeed are those that survive, and those that fail sometimes cause the resource to disappear (e.g., salmon in the Pacific Northwest).

Elinor Ostrom's founding role in the evolution of an interdiscipline of cooperation studies grew from her challenge to currently accepted wisdom about institutions for collective action, her careful inductive examination of empirical studies of common pool resource management, and her insistence on interdisciplinary analysis. The dynamics she uncovered in her research - seven principles common to most successful, enduring common pool resource arrangements - are the starting point for anyone who wants to know how careful theoretical and experimental work can provide practical guidance for policy.

"The word commons originally denoted pastureland treated as a common resource, where individual herders were free to graze their sheep or cattle. The land can support a limited number of grazing animals. The temptation to graze more than one's share is a rational strategy for an individual herder. But if all succumb to the same temptation, the grass ceases to grow and the value of the pasture to everybody disappears."

In a 1986 lecture, Elinor Ostrom challenged the inexorable inevitability of Hardin's tragedy, noting that the situation described in Garrett Hardin's classic 1968 paper "The Tragedy of the Commons" has "the same underlying structure as the decision facing each prisoner in the so-called Prisoner's dilemma game." She also wrote:

"The Prisoner's Dilemma game has fascinated scholars in many fields. The paradox that individually rational strategies lead to collectively irrational outcomes seems to challenge a fundamental faith that rational human beings can achieve rational results. In the introduction to a recently published book, Paradoxes of Rationality and Cooperation, Richmond Campbell explains the "deep attraction" of the dilemma".

In her 1986 lecture, Ostrom emphasized the connection between the tragedy of the commons and the Prisoner's Dilemma game, but had the scientific curiosity to inquire whether tragically locked-in Prisoner's Dilemma strategies actually constrained human choice in all cases where humans have documented their use of common pool resources - she shrewdly understand that the cases in which people overcame the barriers to collective action are as important as the cases in which they fail:

"Scholars and government officials presume that all participants in situations with the structure of a PD game are necessarily trapped in the structure of the situation; as prisoners are trapped in their cells, participants are themselves trapped in their own mental apparatus. I shall argue that the structure is conceptually and methodologically necessary for analysis, but not an empirical necessity. The inability of participants to change the structure may be an empirical reality in some situations. It is not an empirical reality in many situations, however."

Ostrom argued from well-documented cases of informal institutions that had evolved into formal if localized arrangements, sometimes lasting for centuries, that groups could evolve effective institutions without externally coercive authority - if they could solve the "common set of problems." The design principles that Ostrom extracted from cases of successful CPR management turned out to be missing from most of the cases of failed CPR management she investigated - evidence that these design principles are clues to solutions to the problems preventing collective action in many instances. Ostrom argued forcefully that neither direct intervention by the state nor total privatization are necessary for people to evolve successful institutions - although state-provided courts lower the costs of creating the institutions, and the market value of well-managed CPRs provides strong incentive to create, agree, and maintain such arrangements.

Conclusions

Ostrom claims that "all efforts to organize collective action, whether by an external ruler, an entrepreneur, or a set of principals who wish to gain collective benefits, must address a common set of problems." These problems are "coping with free-riding, solving commitment problems, arranging for the supply of new institutions, and monitoring individual compliance with sets of rules." Ostrom found that groups that are able to organize and govern their behavior successfully are marked by the following design principles:

  1. Group boundaries are clearly defined.
  2. Rules governing the use of collective goods are well matched to local needs and conditions.
  3. Most individuals affected by these rules can participate in modifying the rules.
  4. The rights of community members to devise their own rules is respected by external authorities.
  5. A system for monitoring member's behavior exists; the community members themselves undertake this monitoring.
  6. A graduated system of sanctions is used.
  7. Community members have access to low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms.
  8. For CPRs that are parts of larger systems: appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

From Consumers to Users: Shifting the Deeper Structures of Regulation Towards Sustainable Commons and User Access

One Sentence Summary:
In this paper, Benkler demonstrates that regulatory policy in the digitally networked environment is being used to replicate the current mass media structure in which individuals are passive consumers and argues that regulatory policy should develop and sustain an information commons for the consumption, production and exchange of information by active users.
Disciplines:
Law
Technology
Information
Findings:
  • Information and communication regulatory policy should be focused on ensuring a stable system that supports active "peer" users who produce and consume information in the digitally networked environment as opposed to the current mass media system in which a few commercial producers deliver content to a large number of passive consumers. Benkler argues that regulatory policy should develop and sustain an information commons (for the consumption, production and exchange of information by users) and that provisions be designed for the access of information that is not or cannot be held in common.
  • A user is an individual who consumes information but also reworks information and sends it to others (or produces new information). The unregulated Internet of the 1990s made it possible for peer users to emerge. This is in contrast to a passive consumer who consumes but does not produce or exchange information.
  • People want to be users, as evidenced by the Internet and the fact that people using telephones have spent more than on "newspapers, magazines, broadcast cable, and movies combined" in order to participate in communication.
  • For the past half century, our information and communication structure has been one of mass media - a small number of professional producers create content for the widest possible set of passive consumers. This has resulted in today's powerful mass media structure. Attempts are ongoing to replicate the same structure in the digitally networked environment. Things will continue on this path so long as regulatory policy is one that seeks to provide better service to consumers as opposed to one that supports and evolves peer use. That is, the goal of regulatory policy must be seen as enabling use and that consumption, production, and exchange of content is the purview of users.
  • Technologically today, because of the digitally networked environment and through appropriate regulatory policy, it is possible to develop a system in which individuals are free to participate in the consumption, production, and exchange of information - an information commons. However, such a system is not guaranteed and appropriate regulatory choices must be made at all levels (physical layer, logical layer, and content layer) to ensure a commons.
  • The Supreme Court's view of the First Amendment continues to be that it provides for "robust debate, diversity of viewpoints, and individual expressive freedom" as opposed to the view that it provides a technical rule against regulation as regulation. At the same time, mass media has become technically, economically, and legally entrenched and government regulation seeks to counteract the potentially ill-effects on the intent of the First Amendment. The reality is that mass media provides very few individuals or organizations with access to communication pathways, and hence without regulation and maybe in spite of it, it is possible for this reality to inhibit the intent of the First Amendment.
  • The goals of current communications regulation are to uphold the intent of the first amendment and, as a technology, the digitally networked environment provides a better means with which to actually realize these goals. However, regulation would still be required to ensure that we don't, through regulation, replicate the current mass media structure.
  • Benkler provides legal and regulatory examples of the reproduction of the mass media producer-consumer model at the content, logical, and physical layers of the digitally networked environment. At the content layer, intellectual property rights are used to deny use that provides public discourse. At the logical layer, owners of the logical layer are allowed to design that layer to protect the use of their content even for uses that are privileged by law. At the physical layer, the FCC has gone in two opposing directions by both created a commons of digital spectrum and perpetuated the current broadcast system with the allocation of digital spectrum.
  • In cable broadband, providers cite technical reasons for creating a system that provides significantly larger downstream capacity than upstream capacity and then prohibit customers from moving from consumers to users by hosting servers that serve up content.
Keywords:
technology
sharing economy
public goods
networks
intellectual property
communication
Author(s) / Editor(s):
Published in:
Federal Communications Law Journal Vol. 52 pp. 561-579
Date:
April 4, 2000
One Paragraph Summary:

Currently, regulatory policy in the digitally networked environment is being used to replicate the current mass media structure in which individuals are passive consumers obtaining information and content from a few commercial producers. But people want to be users as is evidenced by the Internet and the fact that people using telephones have spent more than on "newspapers, magazines, broadcast cable, and movies combined "in order to participate in peer communication. Today, technologically through the digitally networked environment and through appropriate regulatory policy, it is possible to develop a system in which individuals are free to participate in the consumption, production, and exchange of information - an information commons. However, such a system is not guaranteed and appropriate regulatory choices must be made at all levels (physical layer, logical layer, and content layer) to ensure a commons that supports active use as opposed to passive consumption.

One Page Summary:

Currently, regulatory policy in the digitally networked environment is being used to replicate the current mass media structure in which individuals are passive consumers obtaining information and content from a few commercial producers. In this paper, Benkler provides legal, regulatory, and technological examples of how the mass media producer-consumer model is being reproduced at the content, logical, and physical layers of the digitally networked environment. At the content layer, intellectual property rights are used to legally deny uses that purely provide for public discourse. At the logical layer, owners of the logical layer are allowed to design that layer to protect the use of their content even for uses that are privileged by law. At the physical layer, the FCC has gone in two opposing directions by both created a commons of digital spectrum and perpetuated the current broadcast system with the allocation of digital spectrum. And in cable broadband, providers cite "technical reasons" for creating a system that provides significantly larger downstream capacity than upstream capacity and that technically prohibits customers from becoming users by hosting servers that serve up content in both cases perpetuating the mass media producer-consumer model.

But people want to be users as is evidenced by the Internet and the fact that people using telephones have spent more than on "newspapers, magazines, broadcast cable, and movies combined" in order to participate in communication. Users consume information but also rework information and send it to others (or produce new information). The Supreme Court's view of the First Amendment has repeatedly upheld the notion of users in that it provides for "robust debate, diversity of viewpoints, and individual expressive freedom" as opposed to the view that it provides a technical rule against regulation as regulation. At the same time, mass media has become technically, economically, and legally entrenched and government regulation seeks to counteract the potentially ill-effects on the intent of the First Amendment. The reality is that mass media provides very few individuals or organizations with access to communication pathways, and hence without regulation and maybe in spite of it, it is possible for this reality to inhibit the intent of the First Amendment.

Benkler calls for regulatory policy to move away from providing better service to consumers and towards enabling use and that consumption, production, and exchange of content is the purview of users - a move from the mass media producer-consumer model to an information commons. Today, technologically through the digitally networked environment and through appropriate regulatory policy, it is possible to develop a system in which individuals are free to participate in the consumption, production, and exchange of information - an information commons. Such a system would provide the intent of the First Amendment as regulatory policy today seeks to provide in spite of the realities of the mass media producer consumer model. However, such a system is not guaranteed and is not without regulation and therefore appropriate regulatory choices must be made at all levels (physical layer, logical layer, and content layer) to ensure a commons.

Foundations of Human Sociality (Introduction and Overview)

One Sentence Summary:
Experiments like the Ultimatum Game and the Public Goods Game (one shot games for real money divided among strangers) that have been conducted in different countries all over the world have shown that group behavior frequently does not fit the traditional model of self-interested actors, that it is too richly varied between cultures to support a universal sense of fairness, and that a higher degree of market integration and higher payoffs to cooperation can be linked to greater levels of prosocial behavior.
Disciplines:
Economics
Sociology
Psychology
Findings:
  • People are willing to reward fairness and reciprocity and punish those who do not act pro-socially, even at cost to themselves.
  • Group-level differences in behavior proved to be greater than individual-level differences, indicating cooperative behavior might be more embedded in cultural conditions than was previously thought. While one culture might take advantage of a person who is too altruistic, another might exclude a person for being too self-interested.
Keywords:
trust
reputation
reciprocity
public goods
prisoners dilemma
game theory
equilibrium
cultural evolution
cooperation
communication
assurance game
altruism
Published in:
Oxford University Press
Date:
2004
One Paragraph Summary:

The self-regarding and outcome oriented picture of human behavior presented in traditional economics does not explain why humans care so much about each other and about how social interaction is carried out, not just the end goals. The Ultimatum Game, designed by Werner Guth, is just one illustration of how real people will not always follow the dictates of self-interested rationality. Two subjects are given a sum of money, one is given the power to divide the sum, and the other can either accept or reject (in which case neither get any money). Research from conducting hundreds of trials of the game with thousands of students in Europe, Japan and the USA has shown that the responders frequently reject low offers and proposers frequently propose near equal divisions, even though it is to their monetary disadvantage. While early experiments on undergraduates seemed to suggest that there was a universal sense of fairness, extended research in different cultures (hunter-gatherers, slash-and-burn agriculturists, nomadic pastoralists) has exposed much cultural variation in responses, indicating that local cultural conditions play an important role in how people approach cooperation.

One Page Summary:

The self-regarding and outcome oriented picture of human behavior presented in traditional economics does not explain why humans care so much about each other and about how social interaction is carried out, not just the end goals. The Ultimatum Game, designed by Werner Guth, is just one illustration of how real people will not always follow the dictates of self-interested rationality. Two subjects are given a sum of money, one is given the power to divide the sum, and the other can either accept or reject (in which case neither get any money). Research from conducting hundreds of trials of the game with thousands of students in Europe, Japan and the USA has shown that the responders frequently reject low offers and proposers frequently propose near equal divisions, even though it is to their monetary disadvantage. While early experiments on undergraduates seemed to suggest that there was a universal sense of fairness, extended research in different cultures (hunter-gatherers, slash-and-burn agriculturists, nomadic pastoralists) has exposed much cultural variation in responses, indicating that local cultural conditions play an important role in how people approach cooperation.

While mean proposals for university students from all over the world was usually between 42 and 48 percent, mean proposals from this cross-cultural study varied from 25 to 57 percent. Rejection rates, the action of the responders, also varied considerable between groups. Individual-level economic and demographic variables did not explain behavior as well as group-level behavior, and game play often could be connected to the people's common patterns of interaction. For example, the Orma recognized that one of the experiment's games was similar to the harambee, a local institution of giving to public goods like roads and schools. They began calling it 'the harambee game' and displayed highly prosocial behavior. In other groups, like the Au and Gnau, frequent rejection of generous offers can be explained by a cultural association with gift-giving: accumulating gifts, even if unsolicited, can imply a lowered status and force the receiver into future obligations or political alliance. The cross-cultural study showed that, in the case of groups at the extremes of behavior, "contrasting behaviors seem to reflect their differing patterns of everyday life, not any underlying logic of hunter-gatherer life ways."

The effect of market integration on cooperation to obtain a monetary reward can be explained easily: individuals from market-oriented societies when put in the context of one of the games are able to seek analogues in their daily activities of using and trading money with strangers. "Those who do not customarily deal with strangers in mutually advantageous ways may be more likely to treat anonymous interactions as hostile or threatening, or as occasions for the opportunistic pursuit of self-interest."

Evolution of Indirect Reciprocity

One Sentence Summary:
Cooperation through indirect reciprocity, captured by the phrase "I help you, someone else helps me", requires the evolution of reputations and communication of those reputations among the larger group (as in the human instinct to gossip), cognitive abilities beyond being able to identify relatives (required for kin selection) or the individuals who have cooperated with you in the past (required for direct reciprocity).
Disciplines:
Economics
Sociology
Psychology
Findings:
  • "The hypothesis that more information leads to more cooperation has been confirmed in experiments, which compare three information conditions. In one condition, players have no information about their co-players; in the second they are told about what their co-players have decided when last in the role of a donor; and in the third they also know about the score of the recipient of the co-player. We note that this is not always enough to decide whether a previous defection was justified or not. However, the additional knowledge did enhance cooperation."
  • "Indirect reciprocity is situated somewhere between direct reciprocity and public goods. On the one hand it is a game between two players only, the donor and the recipient, but on the other hand it has to be played within a larger group. Richard Alexander claimed that indirect reciprocity originates from direct reciprocity in the presence of interested audiences."
  • "It is easy to conceive that an organism experiences as 'good' or 'bad' anything that affects the organism's own reproductive fitness in a positive or negative sense. The step from there to judging, as 'good' or 'bad', actions between third parties, is not obvious. The same terms 'good' and 'bad' that are applied to pleasure and pain are also used for moral judgements: this linguistic quirk reveals an astonishing degree of empathy, and reflects highly developed faculties for cognition and abstraction."
  • Even a group of players with discriminating strategies can be sidetracked by imperfect transfer of reputation information, as in unfounded rumors or exaggeration: "if players have different views about the reputation of others, then errors in perception can undermine cooperation."
  • In empirical studies, discriminating players are sensitive to their own score: "players who justifiably refuse to donate to a defector show an increased tendency to provide donations in the following round, as if to make up for that refusal. This indicates that they expect their refusal to lower their score in the co-players' eyes and that they do not rely on the community's understanding."
Keywords:
agent-based model
altruism
assurance game
communication
cooperation
equilibrium
game theory
language
norms
prisoners dilemma
public goods
punishment
reciprocity
reputation
tit-for-tat
trust
Author(s) / Editor(s):
Published in:
Nature 437, 1291-1298
Date:
October 27, 2005
One Paragraph Summary:

Cooperation through indirect reciprocity, can be captured by the phrase "I help you, someone else helps me". Indirect reciprocity helps explain how cooperation is possible at all when economic transactions move beyond small villages where one can easily keep track of one's interactions with everyone else. The success of strategies of indirect reciprocity in empirical studies might be attributable to the fact that humans care so deeply not only about how they are treated, but about the results of interactions between third parties. This concern and the desire to communicate concerns, or gossip, might in turn be explained by evolutionary psychology and the benefits of cooperation in large groups, surpluses resulting from division of labor. To test strategies of indirect reciprocity no two players can interact more than once and the scores of players (the portion of times they have cooperated with others) must be visible. A player choosing a simple version of indirect reciprocity will only cooperate with those whose score is above a certain threshold. However, this player might be punishing another player using indirect reciprocity who has only interacted with defectors. "Effectively, discriminating players pay a cost for punishing bad co-players. Such a form of altruistic punishment can promote cooperation in the community, but at a cost to the punisher, and thus can be viewed as a social dilemma." A more sophisticated strategy would have a player discriminate between justified defection (defecting to punish someone who always defects) and unjustified defection (defecting regardless of the recipients reputation). This strategy avoids the case where a group of players who always cooperate is invaded by a group of players who always defect, but it requires the cognitive abilities to keep track of interactions that are far removed from one's own.

Drama of the Commons (Introduction)

One Sentence Summary:
Institutional arrangements embedded in a complex social context of rules and norms such as trust can overcome the deterioration and depletion of common-pool resources arising from individuals' rational self-interest; specific arrangements tailored to the inherent characteristics of a common-pool resource and the users can provide the optimal sustainable management of that resource.
Disciplines:
Anthropology
Economics
Political Science
Sociology
Findings:
  • Agrawal and Kopelman, Weber and Messick, in summarizing the research on design principles and psychological factors respectively, both maintain that various commons dilemmas each have a different set of most applicable factors. To successfully study or generate collective action in the instance, one must identify out of the large group of variables presented in the research literature the ones that are most relevant.
  • Technological and economic evolution has accelerated throughout the past centuries; we must equip our institutions for governing the commons with mechanisms for adapting to rapid, often unpredictable changes in the biophysical and social environment.
  • While local-level common property institutions do not guarantee sustainable use of resources, local groups do not have the incentive of mass exploitation of resources that politically powerful multinational corporations have. A broad look at the commons research suggests that positive, responsive interplay between national or sub-national regimes and local institutions cannot be missing from the equation.
Keywords:
cooperation
prisoners dilemma
property rights
public goods
Published in:
National Academy Press
Date:
2002
One Paragraph Summary:

Hardin's 1968 article, "The Tragedy of the Commons," drew attention to the problem of coordinating sustainable use of common-pool resources (e.g., grazing pastures, fisheries, watersheds, etc). Rebuttals to his article argued that successful management of shared resources where humans value the interests of the whole group can and does emerge, for example in village communities. In the successful cases, the designation of a resource as common property does not entail a simple open-access regime, but instead complex arrangements of usage rights and maintenance duties legitimated through local customs and individual interactions. Social scientists studying common-pool resource management insist on the importance of the initial and local conditions in determining the emergence and sustained vitality of institutional arrangements. Rules must be appropriate to the local conditions, enforced consistently, understood and considered legitimate by the members of the group, and be subject to change by the people they are imposed on. Common-pool resources are always subject to the free-riding problems of overuse and underprovision (people who benefit from the resource but do not help pay for it). Researchers also associate a set of second tier obstacle to creating arrangements for use of these resources, including free-riders who benefit from but don't contribute to setting up the rules governing the institution, participation in monitoring and punishing those who break the rules. The optimal arrangement will depend on, among other factors, subtractibility, whether one user's consumption of the resource diminishes the possibility of use for others.

Commons in the New Millennium: Challenges and Adaptations

One Sentence Summary:
Studying long-standing institutions for governing common pool resources at various scales can provide important lessons for governing new kinds of shared resources. In the end, institutionalizing effective processes for ongoing negotiation of the rules is more important than the rules themselves.
Disciplines:
Economics
Political Science
Findings:
  • "Instantly renewable" resources are distinguished from resources that require recovery time. For instantly renewable resources (spectrum, airplane landing slots, internet) overuse has little or no impact once overuse stops
  • Users who trust each other are more likely to cooperate to manage common resources.
  • Users who are connected by multiple issues and over a longer period of time can use issue linkages and reciprocity to induce cooperation.
  • Different forms of capital (physical, economic, political, and social) are intrinsically linked and one form can be used to create others.
  • In the end, a dynamic view of property rights is likely to be more appropriate to ensure sustainable and fair use of the resource than one that is static. Creating forums for negotiation and reallocation of such rights may be more important than laying down rigid rules and resource allocations.
Keywords:
reciprocity
social capital
public goods
interdependence
cooperation
Author(s) / Editor(s):
Published in:
MIT Press
Date:
2003
One Paragraph Summary:

Studying long-standing institutions for governing common pool resources at various scales can provide important lessons for governing new kinds of shared resources. Privatization or government control are not the only choices. Existing regimes based on that dichotomy are being re-conceptualized. Creating an interdisciplinary common vocabulary should be a high priority. Central governance and privatization lead to deterioration of shared resources and communities. Different forms of capital (physical, economic, political, and social) are intrinsically linked and one form can be used to create others. The forgiving nature of renewable resources yields greater willingness to experiment with new and innovative management. However, since the resource is resilient there is less incentive to take serious action. In the end, institutionalizing effective processes for ongoing negotiation of the rules is more important than the rules themselves.

One Page Summary:

Introduction

Studying long-standing institutions for governing common pool resources at various scales can provide important lessons for governing new kinds of shared resources. Privatization or government control are not the only choices. Existing regimes based on that dichotomy are being re-conceptualized. Creating an interdisciplinary common vocabulary should be a high priority.

We cannot simply transfer an institutional design that worked well for managing one type of common-pool resource in one region of the world to another type of resource in another region and expect to repeat the success.

Key characteristics for successful cooperation to manage commons:

  • small size of the user pool
  • stable and well-delineated resource boundaries
  • relatively small negative externalities
  • ability of resource users to monitor resource stocks and flows
  • moderate level of resource use (the resource must be neither over-abundant nor beyond recovery)
  • well-understood (by the users) dynamics of the resource

“Instantly renewable” resources are distinguished from resources that require recovery time. For instantly renewable resources (spectrum, airplane landing slots, internet) overuse has little or no impact once overuse stops. The problem is crowding rather than degrading the resource stock. The forgiving nature of instantly renewable resources yields greater willingness to experiment with new and innovative management. However, since the resource is resilient there is less incentive to take serious action.

Research has shown:

  • Users who trust each other are more likely to cooperate to manage common resources.
  • Users who are connected by multiple issues and over a longer period of time can use issue linkages and reciprocity to induce cooperation.

The external legal environment can deliberately or inadvertently promote or hinder cooperative self-management. Transferring responsibility to users close to the resource has been a successful strategy as long as the users still have access to funding and other tools.

Resource users will devise new institutions for managing that resource or change existing rules governing its use when the perceived benefits of the change in the rules exceed the costs associated with creating the rules and with the change of the resource use pattern. Social and financial capital do not necessarily lead to better resource management Technology enables users to monitor the resource and each other more effectively and at lower cost. Technology also allows the development of alternative resources that can affect resource use.

Eight principles for managing commons:

  1. rules are devised and managed by resource users
  2. compliance with rules is easy to monitor
  3. rules are enforceable
  4. sanctions are graduated
  5. adjudication is available at low cost
  6. monitors and other officials are accountable to users
  7. institutions to regulate a given common-pool resource may need to be devised at multiple levels
  8. procedures exist for revising rules

Conclusion

Central governance and privatization only lead to deterioration of shared resources and communities, as well as to the failure of governance at the coarser scale. This implies that the organization at the macro-level is the deciding factor. However, we have seen sustainable management of natural resources over years and centuries despite macro-level restructuring, therefore the initial implication does not tell the whole story.

The authors set out to answer:

  1. What new developments challenge traditional common property institutions and how do they adapt?
  2. How is the increasing scale of human action affecting governance of shared resources?
  3. Can we make progress in institutional design?

Some lessons learned:

  1. The increased interconnection of the biophysical across scales and institutions across levels requires adaptation to change at multiple levels.
  2. The interests of resource users at multiple levels often conflict.
  3. Allocation of resource rights is a political process.
  • Access to this political process is limited by the structure of the macro institutions and also by the human, political, and social capital available to each group of actors.
  • More open political systems and more interconnected economies provide a larger set of adapt strategies.
  • Adopted policy solutions are incremental and not linear.
  • Our terminology needs refinement. Words like “local”, “regional”, and “landscape” erroneously imply that these are nested entities. We still lack conceptual tools with which to integrate the biophysical and the sociopolitical across multiple scales. For example, mobile resources (like fish) require complex polycentric management. Too-decentralized governance can serve as an impediment to meeting needs of a broader society.

    Perceptions of fairness reinforce a climate of trust. Success of any mechanism relies on trust to enable cooperation. When participants do not come face to face with the consequences of their actions they feel no responsibility for them. Different forms of capital (physical, economic, political, and social) are intrinsically linked and one form can be used to create others, but social capital can lead to collective action for or against the commons.

    In the end, a dynamic view of property rights is likely to be more appropriate to ensure sustainable and fair use of the resource than one that is static. Creating forums for negotiation and reallocation of such rights may be more important than laying down rigid rules and resource allocations.

    Common Resources and Institutional Sustainability

    One Sentence Summary:
    While existing studies on institutions for common-pool resource management have generated a relatively large number of universal design principles common to successful institutions, these principles apply to the institutions themselves; future research should include contextual factors of the resource, user group and external environment and focus on specific causal configurations of a more narrow range of interacting variables.
    Disciplines:
    Anthropology
    Economics
    Political Science
    Sociology
    Findings:
    • User-friendly institutional characteristics can be crucial to maintaining a commons, including choices that "encourage fairness in the allocation of benefits from the commons; grant autonomy to users for crafting, implementing, and enforcing institutional arrangements that they identify as being critical in managing resources; institutionalize low-cost mechanisms for adjudication of disputes; promote accountability of office holders to users; and create local-level incentives to develop substitutes."
    • The relation between group size and collective action is not as simple as often described. The impact of group size is affected by many other variables, including "productive technology of the collective good, its degree of excludability, jointness of supply, and the level of heterogeneity in the group."
    • Certain causal configurations of variables surrounding a commons might contradict the universal principles arrived at by sampling hundreds of long-standing institutions. For instance, unpredictability in the flow of benefits from a resource or group mobility might require the boundaries on the resource and group membership to be blurred enough to accommodate fluctuations.
    • The time is ripe for better design principles for institutions for collective action: "national governments in nearly all developing countries have turned to local-level common property institutions in the past decade as a new policy thrust to decentralize the governance of the environment."
    Keywords:
    capitalism
    prisoners dilemma
    privatization
    property rights
    public goods
    Author(s) / Editor(s):
    Published in:
    National Academy Press
    Date:
    2002
    One Paragraph Summary:

    Empirical research has demonstrated that the "tragedy of the commons" is not inevitable when a group of people share a resource that can be depleted from overuse or underprovision. Ostrom's foundational research inductively uncovered design principles that tend to be present when institutions for collective action succeed in maintaining such resources. Recent research on institutional arrangements of common-pool resources has shown that there are more sustainable possibilities than just private property or state-owned arrangements. In drawing up facilitating conditions for commonly managed resources, however, researchers have not done more than select a list of universal characteristics from hundreds of successful cases. Research in this area should be redesigned to reach more predictive and explanatory conclusions about sustainable institutions. "Instead of focusing on lists of factors that apply to all commons institutions, it is likely more fruitful to focus on configurations of conditions that contribute to sustainability." Purposive sampling (sampling on the basis of a few relevant variables) and including the cases of failed common-pool management are more appropriate for testing theories of causal relationships and will expand the predictive power of conclusions beyond cases similar to the sample set. Studies of common property regimes would also be bolstered with more explicit consideration of contextual variables, including the type of resource, characteristics of the user group, and the wider social, physical and institutional environment, rather than just properties of the institution itself.

    One Page Summary:

    Social theorists of the late nineteenth century, such as Comte, Durkheim, Marx, Spencer, Tonnies and Weber, along with anthropologists of indigenous peoples have argued that with industrialization, modern societies will inevitably experience a decline in the norms that protect communal life. Throughout the twentieth century, in place of these norms, markets, states, and contractual obligations emerged as the appropriate means of dealing with common property. Nevertheless, recent scholarship on common property has shown that users are successful in distributing benefits "equitably, over long time periods, and with only limited efficiency losses." Three papers on the commons, by Wade (1994), Ostrom (1990), and Baland and Platteau (1996), have sought out facilitating conditions for sustainable common-property institutions, albeit through different empirical methods. Their overlapping principles are a good starting place for crafting successful institutions for collective action, but their work can also be used as a stepping ladder to more rigorous studies and predictive conclusions.

    Wade argues that environmental risks help push people toward interdependence and defending their crucial commons. He also points to limited numbers of users who are not scattered over a large area, proximity between users and resource, clear boundaries of the user group and resource, easy detection of rule-breakers, graduated sanctions, low-cost exclusion technologies and recognition of local authority by central government as other facilitating conditions. These conditions are duplicated in much of the other literature on commons.

    Ostrom lists eight design principles and qualifies sustainability on the legitimate acceptance of rules and obligations of the institution by subsequent generations of users. For her interests in long-term sustainability, Ostrom looks to successful long-standing institutions for her guiding principles, rather than starting with theoretical, causally-linked variables and then picking her sample. She cites as important principles, along with Wade, clear boundaries on user group and resource, homogeneity among users, locally-devised rules that are easy to implement, graduated sanctions and recognition from the central government.

    Baland and Platteau confirm that regulated common property systems can be just as efficient as private property systems. They list principles that overlap with those mentioned above, also including past experiences of cooperation, external aid and strong leadership. They do not delve into how different factors might interact with each other, but instead list them as facilitating conditions in general.

    Missing from the three articles is extensive attention to resource characteristics. For example, climatic information would be a significant factor in possibility of regeneration of an agricultural resource and the migratory patterns of a herd would be serious limiting factor for its local management. Small group size might not be a facilitating condition in certain situations, considering the "mobility of the resource, and volatility and unpredictability in the flow of benefits from a resource." Contextual factors like demographic conditions or local market demands, while not emphasized in any of the three articles, can be crucial factors in the viability of a commonly managed resource.

    Artifacts, Facilities, And Content: Information as a Common-pool Resource

    One Sentence Summary:
    This paper examines the notion that the enclosure of the information commons through the privatization of information that used to be in the public domain is part of a broad pattern of legal and political changes that are transforming several of the fundamental elements of modernity: science, scholarship, and law.
    Disciplines:
    Law
    History
    Computer Science
    Economics
    Political Science
    Information
    Findings:
    • Different property regimes have been used with varying degrees of success in regard to each class of goods, from communal or state ownership to private ownership.
    • No automatic association exists between common-pool resources with common-property regimes - or, with any other particular type of property regime.
    • Libraries and other public information gateways are threatened because the publishers of scholarly digital information are seeking more money and more control while library budgets shrink.
    • Technologies that enable collective action and information sharing provide ways of countering the increasing privatization of information.
    Keywords:
    sharing economy
    public goods
    intellectual property
    Author(s) / Editor(s):
    Published in:
    "Conference on the Public Domain," Duke Law School, Durham North Carolina
    Date:
    November 9-11, 2001
    One Paragraph Summary:

    The commonwealth of knowledge - from science to jurisprudence - has been one of the success stories of enlightenment rationalism because the insights of a few have benefited all. The modern metanarratives of democracy and progress depend upon this freedom to build on the work of others for the benefit of all. Now that technical means make it possible to enclose, gate, censor, and meter the information commons, the privatization of public culture has begun in earnest.

    One Page Summary:

    Hess and Ostrom detail the complex interdisciplinary definitions of "commons" and "public domain," establishing the discourse in the work of Scott Gordon in 1954 and Anthony Scott in 1955, who introduced economic analysis to fisheries, a natural resource that had traditionally been the domain of biologists. "Their two articles are credited with outlining the conventional theory of the commons." Hess and Ostrom also note the application of game theory as a way of rationalizing commons dilemmas in which "appropriation from common-pool resources is frequently represented as a one-shot or finitely repeated, Prisoner's Dilemma game. Since appropriators are viewed as being tapped in these dilemmas, repeated recommendations were made that external authorities must impose a different set of political regimes and property rights on such settings. Some recommended private property as the most efficient form of ownership. Others recommended government ownership and control. Ostrom and Hess note that the political-economy literature had, until recently, not considered the possibility that the appropriators of common pool resources would find ways to self-organize their use of the CPR. The ability to self-organize institutions for collective action that transform Prisoner's Dilemma games into Assurance Games, the obstacles to self-organization, and the strategies different groups have used to overcome these obstacles are the central themes of both Hess's and Ostrom's work. It is particularly important to note that Hess and Ostrom look to fisheries and irrigation arrangements precisely in order to bring empirical human reality to the abstractions of game-theoretic models. In turn, they use the principles that emerged from empirical observation to make theoretical models.

    Hess and Ostrom emphasize that although all resources have other attributes, an important insight into the nature of public and private aspects of common pool resources can be gained by considering a matrix where excludability is plotted against subtractability: "Recognizing a class of goods that share these two attributes enables scholars to identify the core theoretical problems facing individuals whenever more than one individual or group utilizes such resources for an extended period of time. Using "property" in the term used to refer to a type of good, reinforces the impression that goods sharing these attributes tend everywhere to share the same property regime. As discussed below, this is certainly not the case."

    Consider a two by two matrix in which the column on the left represents low subtractability and the column on the right represents high subtractacility. The row on top represents difficult excludability and the row on the bottom represents easy excludability. Comparing the rows and the columns, four combinations of attributes become visible:

    • Goods that are low in subtractability and difficult to exclude appropriators are public goods such as sunset and common knowledge.
    • Goods that are low in subtractability but easy to exclude are toll or club goods such as day-care centers or country clubs.
    • Goods that are highly subtractable and difficult to exclude are common-pool resources such as irrigation systems and libraries.
    • Goods that are highly subtractable but easy to exclude are private goods such as doughnuts and personal computers.

    Different property regimes have been used with varying degrees of success in regard to each class of goods, from communal or state ownership to private ownership. Hess and Ostrom emphasize the situational importance of every human institution by disclaiming the possibility that rigorous analysis without reference to the actual situation can yield any formula for assigning a property regime to any particular class of goods: "Examples exist of both successful and unsuccessful efforts to govern and manage common-pool resources by governments, communal groups, cooperatives, voluntary associations, and private individuals or firms. Thus, no automatic association exists between common-pool resources with common-property regimes - or, with any other particular type of property regime." Together with attacking the confusion between the nature of a good and a property regime, Hess and Ostrom analyze the confusion between a resource system and the flow of resource units, the confusion between common-property and open-access regimes, and the confusion over what property rights are involved in "ownership."

    Consideration of the governance of common pool resources, the authors note, moved from natural resource systems and human-made resources to such diverse goods as "surfer's waves, sports, national budgets, public radio, traditional music, indigenous knowledge, air slots, campus commons; urban commons [apartment communities and residential community associations, streets, parking places, playgrounds, reclaimed buildings etc.]; highways and transboundary transportation systems, the Internet [domain names, infrastructure, information, acceptable use policies]; tourism landscapes; cultural treasures; car-sharing institutions, garbage; and sewing.

    Turning to the common-pool resource aspects of information, the authors distinguish between the interdependent but separate artifacts such as books, articles, web pages, databases, computer files; facilities such as private and public libraries and archives, digital libraries, e-print repositories, the Internet, or local-area networks; and content such as knowledge, information, and data.

    For the past few centuries, a social machine has evolved to gather, store, and transmit knowledge; information stocks and flows are at the center of this enterprise. Until recent decades, scientific and scholarly information has been recorded, transmitted, and stored in journals, books, articles, academic and public libraries. Fair Use doctrine enabled libraries to provide inexpensive or free access to bodies of knowledge. The digitization of information and extension of copyright laws have brought about radical changes in the way scientific and scholarly knowledge is handled: "Since 1995, the development of distributed digital information through network browsers has radically c hanged many of the traditional institutions of scholarly communication. Research information is moving much faster and much farther, often bypassing the normal publication process. While it is true that recent commodification and privatization of research information threatens the future of libraries' freedom to collect and distribute information, it is only one part of the story. Recent legislation, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Sonny Bono extension Act, the proposed legislation of the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), may all adversely affect the costs, access, and availability of scholarly information."

    Libraries are threatened because the publishers of scholarly digital information are seeking more money and more control while library budgets shrink. Librarians such as Clifford Lynch and legal experts such as Lawrence Lessig and Jamie Boyle have analyzed the forces that could make public libraries and public scholarship into anachronisms like scribes and illuminated manuscripts. Hess and Ostrom point at a countermovement that counters enclosure through technologies that enable collective action:

    "In great contrast with the new legislation increasing copyright and patent restrictions, encouraging contract over property law with the constraints of embedded licensing agreements, is the international E-prints "revolution" that is making scholarly research freely accessible in unprecedented ways. The movement officially began with the mounting of arXiv.org at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Developed in 1991 by physicist and information specialist Paul Ginsparg, it was designed to serve as a repository for digital papers in physics and mathematics. By 1993, the site had received around 500 submissions. By September 30, 2001, the site had received 174,842 submitted papers. "The papers are free but unrefereed, requiring scholars themselves to judge the accuracy and quality of the work. This archive is the first that actually changes the representation and visibility of the scholarly record. The average number of site users range from 60,000 to 160,000 per day." There are hundreds of other digital archives. The Digital Library of the Commons http://dlc.dlib.Indiana.edu/ is both an e-print repository for self-archiving as well as a traditional digital library. An example of an effective grassroots initiative is that taken by the Public Library of Science, a nonprofit organization of scientists dedicated to making the world's scientific and medical literature freely accessible "for the benefit of scientific progress, education and the public good."

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