The Troika of Sociology, Political Science and Economics
Edited by Gert Tingaard Svendsen and Gunnar Lind Haase Svendsen
Chapter 3: Cooperation: Evidence from Experiments
1 Anders Poulsen 3.1 Introduction Most social capital researchers consider the ability of groups, regions and entire societies to cooperate as a crucial, if not deﬁning, aspect of social capital; see, for example, Putnam (1993) and Coleman (1988). Among wellknown examples of cooperation are a group of neighbours who look after each others’ houses, thereby reducing break-ins and theft; reprimanding the local youth for transgressing, thus keeping crime low; residents removing snow from a public driveway; not littering in the local park; joining a local volunteer association that ﬁghts crime, vandalism and graﬃti; a buyer and seller who each does his or her part of the deal without cheating the other side; taking part in a consumer boycott; keeping the thermostat low during a winter fuel shortage; not shirking in teams; restraining one’s resource use in common pool resource situations, such as ﬁshing in international waters; paying taxes; not collecting illegitimate social welfare payments; voting; avoiding proliferation of nuclear weapons, and reducing greenhouse gasses.2 In all these situations, there is no central coercive authority (state, ‘police oﬃcer’, or world government) that, through the use of ﬁnes, prison sentences, taxes or subsidies, get people to cooperate. Even if one exists, it may be weak or corrupt, and so unable to eﬀectively sanction opportunistic behaviour. Cooperation must instead be based on incentives that are locally provided, by the group members themselves. The fundamental problem is that in these situations each individual group member has an incentive to not...
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