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The coevolution of economic institutions and sustainable consumption via cultural group selection


  • Waring, Timothy M.
  • Goff, Sandra H.
  • Smaldino, Paul E.


Empirical research has identified various institutions that improve resource longevity by supporting individual resource conservation. However, the mechanisms by which these institutions emerge have not been established. We speculate that economic institutions which support resource conservation, such as property regimes and systems of production, may emerge via a process of cultural group selection amongst social-ecological systems. To explore this proposition, we develop a multilevel selection model of resource management institutions with endogenous group dynamics. The endogenous design permits us to determine whether a given social adaptation is due to individual or group-level evolution. We demonstrate how resource conservation and supporting economic institutions coevolve, and reveal when cultural group selection is involved. In the model, sustainable societies emerge in only a minority of cases. Simulations reveal that property norms facilitate sustainable outcomes most, followed by social group marking, and production norms. We describe the institutional transitions which occur along the evolutionary trajectory most likely to achieve sustainability. Analysis of the model reveals that when groups compete indirectly for survival in a harsh environment cultural group selection favors institutions that support resource conservation. However, when groups compete for abundant resources institutions emerge to support overconsumption.

Suggested Citation

  • Waring, Timothy M. & Goff, Sandra H. & Smaldino, Paul E., 2017. "The coevolution of economic institutions and sustainable consumption via cultural group selection," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 524-532.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:131:y:2017:i:c:p:524-532
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.09.022

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    References listed on IDEAS

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