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Agriculture Environment Rural Development. Videos Photos Print. Although he never used the words "collective action problem," Thomas Hobbes was an early philosopher on the topic of human cooperation. Hobbes believed that people act purely out of self-interest, writing in Leviathan in that "if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies.
Through his interpretation of humans in the state of nature as selfish and quick to engage in conflict, Hobbes's philosophy laid the foundation for what is now referred to as the collective action problem. David Hume provided another early, more well-known interpretation of what is now called the collective action problem in his book A Treatise of Human Nature. Hume characterizes a collective action problem through his depiction of neighbors agreeing to drain a meadow:.
Two neighbours may agree to drain a meadow, which they possess in common; because it is easy for them to know each others mind; and each must perceive, that the immediate consequence of his failing in his part, is, the abandoning the whole project. But it is very difficult, and indeed impossible, that a thousand persons should agree in any such action; it being difficult for them to concert so complicated a design, and still more difficult for them to execute it; while each seeks a pretext to free himself of the trouble and expence, and would lay the whole burden on others.
In this passage, Hume establishes the basis for the collective action problem.
In a situation in which a thousand people are expected to work together to achieve a common goal, individuals will be likely to free ride , as they assume that each of the other members of the team will put in enough effort to achieve said goal. In smaller groups, the impact one individual has is much greater, so individuals will be less inclined to free ride.
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- 1Climate Change: An Agenda for Global Collective Action (2001)?
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The most prominent modern interpretation of the collective action problem can be found in Mancur Olson's book The Logic of Collective Action. Olson argued that individual rationality does not necessarily result in group rationality, as members of a group may have conflicting interests that do not represent the best interests of the overall group.
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Olson further argued that in the case of a pure public good that is both nonrival and nonexcludable, one contributor tends to reduce their contribution to the public good as others contribute more. Additionally, Olson emphasized the tendency of individuals to pursue economic interests that would be beneficial to themselves and not necessarily the overall public. This contrasts with Adam Smith's theory of the " invisible hand " of the market, where individuals pursuing their own interests should theoretically result in the collective well-being of the overall market.
Olson's book established the collective action problem as one of the most troubling dilemmas in social science, leaving a profound impression on present-day discussions of human behavior and its relationship with governmental policy. Public goods are goods that are nonrival and nonexcludable.
Strategies for achieving global collective action on antimicrobial resistance
A good is said to be nonrival if its consumption by one consumer does not in any way impact its consumption by another consumer. Additionally, a good is said to be nonexcludable if those who do not pay for the good cannot be kept from enjoying the benefits of the good. Thus, the majority of individuals would choose to free ride, discouraging the company from putting on another fireworks show in the future.
Even though the fireworks display was surely beneficial to each of the individuals, they relied on those paying the admittance fee to finance the show. This book identifies the factors that promote or inhibit successful collective action at the regional and global level for an ever-growing set of challenges stemming from augmented cross-border flows associated with globalization.
Modern principles of collective action are identified and applied to a host of global challenges, including promoting global health, providing foreign assistance, controlling rogue nations, limiting transnational terrorism, and intervening in civil wars. Because many of these concerns involve strategic interactions where choices and consequences are dependent on one's own and others' actions, the book relies, in places, on elementary game theory that is fully introduced for the uninitiated reader.
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