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Self-reliance crowds out group cooperation and increases wealth inequality

How does self-reliance lead to a decrease in collaboration for public goods?

Jörg Gross, Sonja Veistola, Carsten de Dreu & Eric van Dijk
14 October 2020
Read the publication on nature.com

Humans establish public goods to provide for shared needs like safety or healthcare. Yet, public goods rely on cooperation which can break down because of free-riding incentives. Previous research extensively investigated how groups solve this free-rider problem but ignored another challenge to public goods provision. Namely, some individuals do not need public goods to solve the problems they share with others.

The authors of the current publication investigated how such self-reliance influences cooperation by confronting groups in a laboratory experiment with a safety problem that could be solved either cooperatively or individually. It is shown that self-reliance leads to a decline in cooperation. Moreover, asymmetries in self-reliance undermine social welfare and increase wealth inequality between group members. Less dependent group members often choose to solve the shared problem individually, while more dependent members frequently fail to solve the problem, leaving them increasingly poor. While self-reliance circumvents the free-rider problem, it complicates the governing of the commons.

The article was published by Nature Communications.

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