Cooperation

Special issue of Journal of Bioeconomics: In Memorium of Elinor Ostrom

Mark D. White

OstromThe latest issue of Journal of Bioeconomics (16/1, April 2014) is dedicated to the work of Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, and features her last paper as the target article, to which a multidisciplinary assortment of scholars respond. The articles and abstracts (when provided) follow.

Elinor Ostrom, "Do institutions for collective action evolve?"

In this paper I will provide an overview of our findings from studying irrigation systems in the field so that readers who are not familiar with our prior research gain at least an initial sense of these findings. I will provide a second short overview —this time of the institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework offering a general method for doing institutional analysis. I will then introduce the possibility of looking at the change of rules as an evolutionary process. The method for studying the evolution of rules will be based on the IAD framework and on our long-term study of rules related to irrigation systems. In the conclusion, I return to the question as to why it is important to authorize resource users’ relative autonomy in the development of their own rules and to learn from the resulting institutional diversity.

David Sloan Wilson, "Cultural species and their ecosystems"

The target article was written for a workshop that I organized with Lin Ostrom titled “Rules as Genotypes in Cultural Evolution”. In my commentary, I describe the background for the workshop and target article in addition to commenting on the article itself. A compelling case can be made for functionally organized human groups as like species that adapt to their local environments. A cultural inheritance mechanism is required for this to happen, which functions analogously to genetic inheritance, although the mechanistic details need not be analogous. Indeed, a diversity of cultural inheritance mechanisms are possible that need not be mechanistically analogous to each other. In addition, most modern human populations consist of a diversity of functionally organized groups, or cultural ecosystems. The distinction between “species” and “ecosystem” is important because the concept of an inheritance system applies primarily to the former. Finally, positive cultural evolution in modern large-scale society must be engineered and an explicitly evolutionary perspective will add value to the enterprise.

R. Costanza, "A theory of socio-ecological system change"

Thráinn Eggertsson, "Governing the commons: Future directions for the Ostrom Project"

Now, when longitudinal data are available or soon will be, it is important to carefully consider research strategies for the second phase of the Ostrom Project. I recommend a problem oriented approach aimed at answering questions and solving puzzles that have emerged in the last 25–30 years and a focus on the political dimensions of the commons. Reading Lin’s paper in this issue, I found her proposal valuable but too narrow. I suggest that the longitudinal phase of the Project should deal explicitly with institutions and mechanisms for solving conflicts among local participants over how to divide the costs and benefits of using common resources. I offer, as an illustration, a number of research questions that emphasize institutions in the policy and constitutional spheres rather than in the operational one.

Avner Grief, "Do institutions evolve?"

Chris Hann, "Evolution, institutions, and human well-being: Perspectives from a critical social anthropology"

The work of Elinor Ostrom is important for those who deplore the fact that the rise of ethnographic methods has led mainstream socio-cultural anthropologists to lose interest in evolution. This trend in anthropology is illustrated with reference to research on property, where Ostrom herself made notable contributions. However, it is argued that her mature work on the evolution of rules and her privileging of low-level institutions do not pay sufficient attention to local cultural notions and reflect the bias of a powerful Western ideology.

Siegwart Lindenberg, "Sustainable cooperation needs tinkering with both rules and social motivation"

Claude Ménard, "The diversity of institutional rules as engine of change"

The target paper by Elinor Ostrom in this Special Issue carries a clear message about her research agenda: be attentive to institutional diversity, be aware of the danger of ‘monoculture’ and ‘monocropping’ of rules. Although Ostrom was fully aware of the necessity to focus on relevant and simplified variables in order to build general explanations, she deliberately adopted a bottom-up research strategy that opposes the top-down approach dominating social sciences. Her framework, developed through extensive field studies, shows the central role of “clusters” of rules in defining institutions and understanding how they change. My discussion is organized around this privilege conferred to rules. Section 2 posits her contribution, particularly her IAD model, in relation to New Institutional Economics. Section 3 focuses on what I consider her main contribution: her analysis of rules as the strategic point through which changes happen. Section 4 discusses some methodological issues, and Sect. 5 concludes.

Amy R. Poteete, "How far does evolution take us? Comment on Elinor Ostrom’s: do institutions for collective action evolve?"

Elinor Ostrom’s article in this issue suggests that institutions for collective action evolve, highlights parallels between biological and institutional evolution, and describes an hypothetical example of institutional evolution related to an irrigation system. The article is provocative but not definitive in that it does not demonstrate that evolution is more than a metaphor for institutional change and that institutions actually evolve. This commentary unpacks the concept of evolutionary change and evaluates how well various aspects of institutional change fit within this model of change. The analysis supports Ostrom’s contention that evolution is not just a metaphor for institutional change, but also suggests that not all institutional change can be classified as evolutionary. The commentary highlights the need for further conceptual and theoretical development to delineate various forms and processes of institutional change, distinguish between evolutionary and non-evolutionary change, and draw out the consequences of various forms of change.

Viktor J. Vanberg, "Collective action, institutional design and evolutionary 'blindness'


Nobel Prize a Collective Effort

Jonathan B. Wight

At 87, Robert Solow (Nobel Prize 1987) recently gave up his office in the MIT Department of Economics.

Finance and Development caught up with him before his move to survey his career of more than 60 years. Solow's parting comment is worth repeating and discussing:

"[T]he most important thing in intellectual success is being part of a high-morale group. I think that progress comes from intellectual communities, not from individuals generally. That's what's wrong with Nobel Prizes and all that."

Social economics explores the ways in which group interaction and ethics contribute to the creation of (among other things) trust necessary for change and growth. Most intellectual markets involve autonomous--but not anonymous--agents whose group interactions alter preferences and influence choices through framing. Among other things, our colleagues help us reduce procrastination by according (or withholding) status and other social rewards (see The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination, edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White, Oxford, 2010).

The "fallacy of composition" is the widespread but mistaken notion that what is true (or works) in the individual or group situation is also true (or works) in society at large. Applied here, there is a dichotomy between the evolutionarily-adaptable emotional instincts for sociability (and the resulting ethical rules that evolve) and the more abstract and logical duties that are owed to anonymous strangers. The production of intellectual capital has been modeled as an anonymous quest for profit maximization. This is, at best, misleading; the micro-micro foundations of success may have more to do with emotional commitments and duties than with pecuniary motives.

Not that more money hurts -- but it might. A long time ago when I was serving on a search committee for the Dean of a new school that had just been endowed, a top candidate for the job asked about the facilities. "Don't worry," said the provost. "We're building a brand-new building and you'll have the best office in it." The candidate shook his head ruefully and eventually turned us down. He stated: "That's not how you build camaraderie when starting a new program. All the fancy offices and money create jealousies and petty spitefulness, destroying morale. If I start a new program like this, it should be housed in the basement of the worst building on campus. And all of the new hires will draw together as a team, focus on the important things, and get those things done!"

(P.S. -- Don't show this to my Dean, because I like my corner office and can swear my productivity is higher in it. J )


A Bright Side of American Capitalism

Jonathan B. Wight

I wrote a few weeks ago about social marketing and networking. On one level social marketing is shamelessly shallow, leaving many people cringing at the chutzpah of near strangers. Why are you "friending" me on Facebook? Are you networking to get a job or because we actually share genuine moral sentiments?

After two weeks meeting with folks in the Bay Area—the Left Coast—I am more convinced than ever that young Americans, who in many ways drive American culture and hence business marketing, are rejecting shallowness in favor of genuine connectivity and community. Of course, there are lots of exceptions. But the social gestalt does seem to be shifting, so that the standard neoclassical view of "enlightened self interest" is giving way to "authentic selfhood." That is, people are striving to understand how to be true to ideals and virtues.

One manifestation of this might be reflected in the termination of Glenn Beck's show on Fox (ending June 30). Van Jones, who earlier left the Obama White House under the withering criticism of Beck, had this to say:

Good American businesses make a decision about who they want to associate their brands with," he said. "And if you violate the principles of good discourse and fair play in America, good American businesses will not stay with you and you won't stay in the public square very long.

"So it's not just a triumph of American capitalism," Jones said. "It's a triumph of American values."

Another way to say this is: markets are essential for the expression of human interests and to promote change. However, markets are no guarantee that you'll have the right consumer values that will promote human rights or anything else. Hence, markets—by themselves—need complementary institutions in order to create the incentives and values that lead to a desirable society.


Mirror neurons, Adam Smith, and sympathy (at Knowledge Problem)

Mark D. White

Over at Knowledge Problem, Lynne Kiesling talks about mirror neurons, Adam Smith, and her new paper on both, titled "Mirroring and the Sympathetic Process: Some Implications of Mirror Neuron Research for Sympathy and Institutions in Adam Smith":

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith asserts that humans have an innate interest in the fortunes of other people and desire for sympathy with others. Recent neuroscience research on mirror neurons has now provided evidence consistent with Smith’s assertion, suggesting that humans have an innate capability to understand the mental states of others at a neural level. This capability provides an important foundation for the Smithian sympathetic process, which has three components: sympathy as a synthesis of empathy with reason-based judgment, an external spectatorial perspective on the actions of others (and one’s own actions), and an innate imaginative capacity that enables an observer to imagine herself in the situation of the agent. This sympathetic process, and the neural framework that the mirror system appears to provide for it, predisposes individuals toward coordination of the expression of their emotions and of their actions. In Smith’s model this decentralized coordination leads to the emergence of social order, bolstered and reinforced by the emergence and evolution of informal and formal institutions grounded in the sympathetic process. This paper presents an argument that a sense of interconnectedness and the shared meaning of actions are essential foundations for the Smithian sympathetic process and the resulting decentralized coordination and emergent social order. The mirror neuron system appears to provide a neural framework for those capabilities.