Crawl Across the Ocean

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Today's collective action problem

Imagine a scenario with the following characteristics:

1) The entire world has a problem.
2) Every nation is contributing to the problem, some much more than others
3) It is agreed that action needs to be taken in order to solve the problem.
4) It is believed that this action would be costly for every nation that takes part
5) The benefits from any action to solve the problem will be distributed equally to every nation, regardless of whether they themselves contributed or not.
6) Due to 4) and 5) any nation which takes action will be at an economic disadvantage vs. any nation which doesn't take any action.

How would you go about solving this problem?

a) This problem has no solution. Just ignore the problem and hope it goes away.
b) Ask for volunteers and hope that some countries value the gain from helping solve the problem higher than the loss of economic competitiveness.
c) Try to get countries which are wealthier to take the lead in solving the problem, either by going first or by agreeing to take bigger measures
d) Try to get countries which are contributing more to the problem to take the lead in solving the problem
e) Try to get all countries in the world to agree to make contributions to solving the problem
f) Create a global level of government which has the power to force action on everybody in cases like this.


Think about your options in cases like this (remembering the pressures that will face any government which undertakes some costly action while its neighbours freeload) the next time you hear someone saying that the Kyoto protocol is flawed, or so-and-so hasn't signed it, so we should just ignore the problem of global warming.

It's also worth keeping in mind when people say there is no need for a global level of government.

Labels: , , , ,


  • I pick:

    g) Make the problem known to all the countries, and allow the countries to tackle it (or not) at their leisure. If countries want to share innovations and information, that's fine, however sovereign countires cannot be forced to do anything.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 8:26 AM  

  • Why not put together a coalition of the willing and wage war on those countries not prepared to do their share?

    More seriously...

    In a traditional prisoner's dilemna everyone can see that co-operation is a beneficial to all, and a simple contract should be possible to negotiate. However, I think that this situation is complicated by the fact that the Republicans don't really seem to agree that there is a problem, or that there is a benefit to co-operation. Besides, if Republicans can't agree that national debt is a problem what chance is there something that is less tangible and more long-term would be be viewed as a problem?

    By Blogger dejour, at 9:46 AM  

  • Ah, yes, the `do nothing' approach, often used by right-wingers to deal with actual problems they don't care to solve, but strangely absent from their list of options when the issue is near to their blackened, shrivelled little hearts (Invading Iraq: you're either with us or you're with the terrorists!)

    The only real solution in this case is enormous political pressure, and educating the people in the hopes that they, too, put pressure on their governments. The problem is people like andrew, who insist on pushing mis-information and ill-informed nonsense; they end up making the promulgation of facts and education very difficult. Facts, to these people, are stupid things.

    By Blogger Jon Dursi, at 9:52 AM  

  • Andrew, I don't know why you added a new letter, when option b) already captured your plan. Do you think this approach will work? - or do you not want to solve the problem - or do you just feel that the other options as having some drawbacks which are worse the problem would be?

    Re: "sovereign countires cannot be forced to do anything.", I'm not sure what you're trying to say. Of course you can't force a sovereign anything to do anything, that's what sovereign means. The question I'm asking is whether we *should* force nations to do some things (like we force provinces, states, municipalities, townships, counties, people to do).

    Dejour: Of course the head-in-sand Republicans refusal to admit there's a problem doesn't help, but even if they do come around we'll still have problems, as evidenced by the arguments people make against Kyoto here in Canada. That's what I'm trying to get at in this particular post.

    Jonathan: Indeed, political pressure is what is needed, keep up the good work trying to build some.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:55 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home