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Seeking Protection and the Origin of the State


  • Allen Wilhite


Consider a simple world populated with two kinds of individuals, those who work and create wealth (peasants) and those who survive by taking the property of others (bandits). The presence of bandits creates an incentive for peasants to seek protection, to defend their property. But protection is costly; it consumes resources and interferes with an individual's ability to create wealth. This study will investigate how individuals might make decisions in such circumstances, how those decisions evolve over time, and how broader societal characteristics can emerge from such decisions. Every agent decides to be a peasant or a bandit and if peasantry is chosen, he decides how much to invest in protection. A critical issue is that peasants can engage in self-protection or they can pool their resources to create some social or communal protection. Private protection has benefits that accrue solely to that individual while public or social protection provides benefits to all members of the society. In addition communal protection is assumed to have a different, and superior, technology, but since its benefits are public, there is an incentive to free ride. A central theme of this project is, "Under what circumstances do peasants overlook the free riding possibilities to cooperate and form communities that invest in social protection?" Decisions follow an evolutionary path rather than arising from agents intentionally maximizing an objective function. In other words, these agents do not "do the math" to determine their optimal contributions to private and public protection. Instead decisions change over time as agents observe their position or satisfaction relative to others. This evolutionary procedure leads to a simple and natural decision process. The least successful agents (those whose choices rendered them least fit) have the greatest incentive to change what they are doing. While being over simplified, this process reflects decision-making observed in everyday life. Many individuals gauge their "success" relative to others and make decisions based on their relative position. This study will proceed with a series of experiments performed on a variety of artificial societies. In some cases a spatial dimension will introduce neighborhood effects, i.e., agents may be influenced by the decisions of other, nearby agents. In some models individuals find the ability to coerce others to contribute to social protection. In others the number and size of communities will be endogenously determined allowing for the emergence of smaller communities that can more closely police free riding. We are ultimately interested in the aggregate attributes of these societies, the dynamic behavior of agents, and whether some regimes lead to emergent communities that adopt a positive level of social protection; what we call the emergence of a state. Specific attributes of interest in these societies include: (i) the number of bandits and peasants in the population; (ii) the expenditure on protection (the amount of rent-seeking or non-productive activities); (iii) aggregate output (GDP) or per capita output; (iv) the dispersion of criminal activity; and (v) the number and size of any emergent communities.

Suggested Citation

  • Allen Wilhite, 2001. "Seeking Protection and the Origin of the State," Computing in Economics and Finance 2001 69, Society for Computational Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sce:scecf1:69

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    More about this item


    agent-based decision making; private v. public protection;

    JEL classification:

    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights


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