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Kantian Optimization: An Approach to Cooperative Behavior



Although evidence accrues in biology, anthropology and experimental economics that homo sapiens is a cooperative species, the reigning assumption in economic theory is that individuals optimize in an autarkic manner (as in Nash and Walrasian equilibrium). I here postulate a cooperative kind of optimizing behavior, called Kantian. It is shown that in simple economic models, when there are negative externalities (such as congestion effects from use of a commonly owned resource) or positive externalities (such as a social ethos reflected in individuals’ preferences), Kantian equilibria dominate Nash-Walras equilibria in terms of efficiency. While economists schooled in Nash equilibrium may view the Kantian behavior as utopian, there is some -- perhaps much -- evidence that it exists. If cultures evolve through group selection, the hypothesis that Kantian behavior is more prevalent than we may think is supported by the efficiency results here demonstrated.

Suggested Citation

  • John E. Roemer, 2012. "Kantian Optimization: An Approach to Cooperative Behavior," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1854R, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University, revised Oct 2013.
  • Handle: RePEc:cwl:cwldpp:1854r

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    More about this item


    Kantian equilibrium; Social ethos; Implementation;

    JEL classification:

    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General

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