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The Bioeconomics of Cooperation


  • Adam Gifford



When transactions and information are costly and exchange is non-simultaneous, ‘institutions matter’. They matter because exchange under these circumstances subjects the participants to potentially harmful behaviors by other participants, among which are: opportunistic behavior, agency, the free-rider problem, cheating, moral hazard, and adverse selection. Institutions constrain these behaviors, allowing the participants to take advantage of the gains from trade and specialization, and thereby facilitating cooperation. Individuals adhere to institutional rules because they gain by doing so. Because the individual gains are inseparable from the structure of the institutions, the institutions themselves necessarily become the focus of the analysis—as we see in the new institutional economics (NIE). The new group selection position in biology involves a similar shift in focus from the level of the individual to the group when studying the evolution of altruism. But some of the proponents of group selection go further, arguing that altruism in biology evolves because it is in the interest of the group, but not the individual. In fact, group level analysis is necessary in biology, as in the NIE, because it allows for the discovery of ‘institutions’ that constrain cheating, opportunistic behavior, etc., thereby making participation in the group in the long-run self-interest of the individual. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Suggested Citation

  • Adam Gifford, 2000. "The Bioeconomics of Cooperation," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 2(2), pages 153-168, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbioec:v:2:y:2000:i:2:p:153-168
    DOI: 10.1023/A:1011466701827

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ellickson, Robert C, 1989. "A Hypothesis of Wealth-Maximizing Norms: Evidence from the Whaling Industry," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(1), pages 83-97, Spring.
    2. Demsetz, Harold, 1988. "The Theory of the Firm Revisited," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(1), pages 141-161, Spring.
    3. Klein, Benjamin & Crawford, Robert G & Alchian, Armen A, 1978. "Vertical Integration, Appropriable Rents, and the Competitive Contracting Process," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(2), pages 297-326, October.
    4. Williamson, Oliver E, 1988. "The Logic of Economic Organization," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(1), pages 65-93, Spring.
    5. repec:mes:jeciss:v:30:y:1996:i:4:p:1212-1216 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Deby Cassill & Benjamin Hardisty & Alison Watkins, 2011. "A 4D natural selection model illuminates the enigma of altruism in the Shedao pit viper," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 13(1), pages 17-29, April.
    2. Howard Margolis, 2004. "Cognition and Extended (NSNX) Rational Choice: Some Early Results," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 295-316, September.
    3. Geoffrey Hodgson, 2007. "Taxonomizing the Relationship Between Biology and Economics: A Very Long Engagement," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 169-185, August.
    4. Peter Corning, 2007. "Synergy Goes to War: A Bioeconomic Theory of Collective Violence," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 109-144, August.
    5. Deby Cassill & Alison Watkins, 2010. "The evolution of cooperative hierarchies through natural selection processes," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 29-42, April.


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