The Mathematics of Collective Action

The Mathematics of Collective Action

The Mathematics of Collective Action

The Mathematics of Collective Action

Excerpt

Several years ago, I devised a game. It was a legislative game, in which players—that is, legislators—began with constituents' interests for or against particular bills, with their right to vote in the legislature on those bills, and with the knowledge that constituents would vote for their re-election if their interests were satisfied, against it if they were not. That was all, except for a few rules of parliamentary procedure.

What was curious about the game was the behaviour that transpired among the legislators during play. Voting itself was a minor part of the action. Nor was effort directed toward trying to convince another player that he should vote for or against a bill. Instead, most of the action involved negotiations: agreements between two players to support each other on two bills, one of which was of interest to the constituents of each. Sometimes, more than two bills were involved in the discussion, and sometimes, though infrequently, more than two persons were involved.

As I examined available information on real legislatures, I found it didn't work just that way: both more and less transpired. Legislators had more than their vote that other legislators were interested in: influence in a committee, their time or attention, their influence over other legislators. And many other groups besides other legislators were involved in the activities that finally culminated in a vote, each with resources of its own: government agencies, trade associations, business firms, trade unions, professional associations. But less took . . .

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