The Challenge: Collective Action Problems
With crowdacting, we're trying to promote a new way of solving Collective Action Problems (CAPs). Here we'll explain what collective action problems are, and why traditional solutions (like regulation and privatization) have failed.
What are collective action problems?
This gentleman from Duke University explains it much better than we could (don't let the ugly starting screen scare you off - it's actually a great video!). If you don't have sound or if you just feel like reading, please find some more info below.
In short, collective action problems are situations where it is in every person's self-interest to act in a way that has a suboptimal outcome for society at large. For instance: Sure, I can limit my fish consumption, but if nobody else does, my "sacrifice" to not eat fish has no significant impact, since the fish stocks will collapse regardless of my actions. So I might as well eat sushi every day, before we run out of fish!
Many of the issues in the world (small and large) are collective action problems, some more serious than others. For instance:
- Park cleanup: "Yes, it would be quite nice if the park was clean. But I'm not going to change it just by myself. Plus, if I do, it's a matter of days before the littering starts again".
- Modern slavery: "I know my to-cheap-to-be-true new t-shirt might not be made under the best labor conditions, but they're not going to close down the factory or change anything if I stop buying them".
- Wearing high heels (1) (see video): "If I wear heels and others don't, I might be a bit more attractive than others around me, given the prevailing standards of attractiveness. If others wear high heels, I'd better wear them too so I don't fall behind compared to my peers. In any case, I should wear high heels, even though everyone would be better off in terms of cost and comfort if we would all just wear flat shoes".
- Wearing high heels (2): Everyone at work is wearing high heels, so I'd better wear them too, even though they are dreadfully uncomfortable (check this story, for example).
- Traffic jams: "I could take public transport to work or work from home once in a while to reduce traffic jams and air pollution, but just me - just one person - leaving the car at home won't make a difference".
- Global warming: "Sure I can [switch to renewable energy/take public transport/eat less meat/fly less], but the impact of my actions is so small, it doesn't really make a difference (plus I quite like the [price my coal burning energy provider charges me/my car/my steak/flying])".
- Corruption: "I know I should not feed this culture of corruption by paying bribes, but I really need to get this thing done. And everyone else is doing it; it's just the way it works here".
- (Corporate) Tax evasion: "Sure we at [company X] feel like we should also contribute our fair share in taxes, but if our competitors are using all sorts of tax evasion constructions, we cannot compete on price if we don’t minimize our tax contribution".
- Conflict resources: "I know my iPhone has been made with 'conflict minerals' that perpetuate the fighting and killing in conflict zones. But I do really like the new iPhone and just one phone isn't going to solve the situation now, is it?".
- Recycling: "I know lots of people that don't recycle, so one person more or less, doesn't really matter".
And the list goes on. In fact, it's quite hard to think of a problem that is not in some way a collective action problem.
Solutions to collective action problems
Traditionally there are two main ways in which collective action problems are addressed:
- Regulation: Governmental regulations can limit the amount of a common good that is available for use by any individual. E.g. governments can implement permit systems for extracting activities like mining, fishing, hunting, livestock raising, and timber extraction.
- Privatization: We can convert common resources into private property, giving the new owner an incentive to enforce its sustainability (people have an incentive not to ruin their own resources)
However, these solutions have their limitations. For instance, certain things are hard to be solved through regulation. Perhaps because there is no political willingness or no (strong enough) authority to solve the issue. For instance, there is no strong enough international authority or agreement that can solve global issues like climate change (although some progress seems to have been made recently, it remains to be seen whether this will be enough).
Also, certain public goods cannot be (or should not be) privatized. For example, how do you privatize certain fish that migrate from one continent to the other regularly?