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Voluntary restrictions on self-reliance increase cooperation and mitigate wealth inequality


Gross, Jörg; Böhm, Robert (2020). Voluntary restrictions on self-reliance increase cooperation and mitigate wealth inequality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117(46):29202-29211.

Abstract

Humans are considered a highly cooperative species. Through cooperation, we can tackle shared problems like climate change or pandemics and cater for shared needs like shelter, mobility, or healthcare. However, cooperation invites free-riding and can easily break down. Maybe because of this reason, societies also enable individuals to solve shared problems individually, like in the case of private healthcare plans or private retirement planning. Such "self-reliance" allows individuals to avoid problems related to public goods provision, like free-riding or underprovision, and decreases social interdependence. However, not everyone can equally afford to be self-reliant, and amid shared problems, self-reliance may lead to conflicts within groups on how to solve shared problems. In two preregistered studies, we investigate how the ability of self-reliance influences collective action and cooperation. We show that self-reliance crowds out cooperation and exacerbates inequality, especially when some heavily depend on collective action while others do not. However, we also show that groups are willing to curtail their ability of self-reliance. When given the opportunity, groups overwhelmingly vote in favor of abolishing individual solutions to shared problems, which, in turn, increases cooperation and decreases inequality, particularly between group members that differ in their ability to be self-reliant. The support for such endogenously imposed interdependence, however, reduces when individual solutions become more affordable, resonating with findings of increased individualism in wealthier societies and suggesting a link between wealth inequality and favoring individual independence and freedom over communalism and interdependence.

Keywords: cooperation; endogenous choice; individualism; interdependence; social dilemma

Abstract

Humans are considered a highly cooperative species. Through cooperation, we can tackle shared problems like climate change or pandemics and cater for shared needs like shelter, mobility, or healthcare. However, cooperation invites free-riding and can easily break down. Maybe because of this reason, societies also enable individuals to solve shared problems individually, like in the case of private healthcare plans or private retirement planning. Such "self-reliance" allows individuals to avoid problems related to public goods provision, like free-riding or underprovision, and decreases social interdependence. However, not everyone can equally afford to be self-reliant, and amid shared problems, self-reliance may lead to conflicts within groups on how to solve shared problems. In two preregistered studies, we investigate how the ability of self-reliance influences collective action and cooperation. We show that self-reliance crowds out cooperation and exacerbates inequality, especially when some heavily depend on collective action while others do not. However, we also show that groups are willing to curtail their ability of self-reliance. When given the opportunity, groups overwhelmingly vote in favor of abolishing individual solutions to shared problems, which, in turn, increases cooperation and decreases inequality, particularly between group members that differ in their ability to be self-reliant. The support for such endogenously imposed interdependence, however, reduces when individual solutions become more affordable, resonating with findings of increased individualism in wealthier societies and suggesting a link between wealth inequality and favoring individual independence and freedom over communalism and interdependence.

Keywords: cooperation; endogenous choice; individualism; interdependence; social dilemma

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Multidisciplinary
Language:English
Date:2020
Deposited On:15 Nov 2022 15:43
Last Modified:28 Mar 2024 02:39
Publisher:National Academy of Sciences
ISSN:0027-8424
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2013744117
PubMed ID:33122435
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Publisher License