collective-action problem

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Any situation in which the uncoordinated actions of each player may not result in the best outcome he or she can achieve. Two famous examples are Chicken and Prisoners' Dilemma, another class of collective action problem is the Assurance Game. In a typical Assurance game, you and I have agreed to meet in London tomorrow, but we have forgotten to specify where and when. So each of us must try to think what the other is likely to be thinking (which of course includes my thinking what you are thinking that I am thinking, and so on). If each of us thinks that the other thinks (that the other thinks…) that the likeliest venue is, say, in front of the National Gallery at twelve noon, then the collective action problem is optimally solved; otherwise not.

Assurance games are trivial once the parties can communicate; other collective action problems including both Chicken and Prisoners' Dilemma may be harder to solve. These often involve free‐riding dilemmas which are important in politics (should I voluntarily pay taxes, clean up the environment, vote…?). It would be best if everybody did, but each individual is usually better off to try to free‐ride and let others provide the good. However, if all or most people free‐ride, the good is not provided. See also public good.

Subjects: Politics.

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