5.4 Conclusion

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Clearly, situations which can arise in field settings are of a much wider variety than what the tragedy of the commons implies. In the previous chapter, emphasis was laid on the fact that even within the PD framework repetition can possibly get people out of the non-co-operative equilibrium trap. In this chapter, it has been argued that this framework, although useful to account for many field situations which have really developed into the kind of tragedy envisioned by Hardin, is nevertheless too narrow to describe a whole range of other situations. Depending on the characteristics of the resource and the technique used as well as on various features of user groups (their size, their rate of discount of future income and the importance of their subsistence constraints, their exit possibilities, etc.), problems of resource exploitation may or may not be adequately described as PD games. Thus, such problems of resource management may well entail co-ordination or chicken game-like problems, or a mixture of different payoff structures. In this new perspective, the focus of the analysis is no more on the irresistible tendency of individuals to overexploit the commons. It is being shifted to human encounters involving problems of trust, leadership, co-ordination, group identity, and homogeneity or heterogeneity of group members.

A particularly striking result obtains in heterogeneous encounters with sequential moves in which the first agent has an AG payoff structure while the second agent has a CG, an AG, or even a PD payoff structure. If the second type of agent can assume leadership, co-operation will automatically ensue but the reverse is not true except in the case where both the leader and the follower happen to have an AG payoff structure. Clearly, the payoff profile of the leader matters a lot and, in a rather paradoxical way, co-operation is better ensured if 'nice' people do not occupy the leadership position.

Leadership does not necessarily refer to the ability to make the first move in a sequential decision-making process. It can also mean the ability to mobilize a sufficient number of people for enterprises requiring co-ordinated efforts. If such leadership is not present in these situations, collective action may not occur even though every agent would actually like to cooperate with the others.

The discussion about situations structured like asymmetric chicken games has shown the importance of precising the nature of power in order to be able to predict who, between the rich and the poor, are more likely to bear the cost of producing a public good (or preventing a public 'bad') in this kind of situation. Power can take various forms. It may be reflected in the ability to make a credible commitment to non-co-operation in the first stage of a sequential decisionmaking process. Or, it may have its source in exit possibilities that are not available to the other agents. Or again, it may express itself in the ability to lay down social norms that drive everybody to co-operate, irrespective of individual interests in the public good. Sheer poverty can, however, confer leverage upon the poor if the latter are so hard-pressed by subsistence constraints that they are not capable of producing the public good alone. Yet, even in this case, the third way of exercising power (imposing norms of participation) can enable the rich to transform the situation partly to their advantage. Note, moreover, that in situations involving co-ordination problems but where the efforts of the whole group are not required, power can manifest itself in the ability to exclude people from collective action, thereby preventing them from fully participating in the management of community affairs.

Regarding group size, it bears emphasis that the central conclusions reached at the end of Chapter 4 continue to hold true and are even reinforced when allowance is made for non-PD payoff structures. Thus, as the size of the group increases, due to incentive dilution a chicken game degenerates into a prisoners' dilemma with the result that no contribution, whether unilateral or universal, is made towards producing collective CPR infrastructures or no effort towards following use-restraining rules. Also, the fact that limited group size favours continuous interactions and easy observability and memorization of each other's actions proves to be a decisive factor in explaining the emergence of co-operation. In particular, when PD players coexist with AG players, it may be in the interest of the former to conceal their freerider type by co-operating till the last (few) stages of the game. This is not possible in large groups since the agents' co operative moves cannot be interpreted by the others in a way conducive to universal co-operation. As a result, when numerous actors are involved, each of them tends to consider others' behaviour as a datum which he is unable to influence (Buchanan, 1975: 66).

In the previous chapter, the feasibility of pre-play communication in small-group settings has been emphasized. This aspect of the problem of collective action assumes special relevance when agents operate within an AG payoff structure. As a matter of fact, if such agents are able to signal to the others their predisposition to co-operate and their aversion to being "exploited', the Pareto-superior equilibrium is very likely to be established and sustained. This is all the more true if the feeling of sameness or togetherness permeates the culture of the small group.