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Larger groups may alleviate collective action problems


  • Sung Ha Hwang

    () (University of Massachusetts Amherst)


This paper shows how larger group size can enhance punishing behavior in social dilemmas and hence support higher levels of cooperation. We focus on describing conflict technology using Lanchester's equations and study the role of "collectivity" of punishment to support cooperation in large groups. The main results suggest that as long as defectors are, even slightly, less "collective" than punishers, Lanchester's law can be applied to show that a smaller proportion of punishers can successfully eliminate defectors as the size of the population increases. JEL Categories:

Suggested Citation

  • Sung Ha Hwang, 2009. "Larger groups may alleviate collective action problems," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2009-05, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ums:papers:2009-05

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    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:68:y:1974:i:02:p:707-716_11 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Haan, Marco & Kooreman, Peter, 2002. "Free riding and the provision of candy bars," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 277-291, February.
    3. Carpenter, Jeffrey P., 2007. "Punishing free-riders: How group size affects mutual monitoring and the provision of public goods," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 31-51, July.
    4. R. Mark Isaac & James M. Walker, 1988. "Group Size Effects in Public Goods Provision: The Voluntary Contributions Mechanism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 103(1), pages 179-199.
    5. Bagnoli, Mark & McKee, Michael, 1991. "Voluntary Contribution Games: Efficient Private Provision of Public Goods," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 29(2), pages 351-366, April.
    6. Kandori, Michihiro & Mailath, George J & Rob, Rafael, 1993. "Learning, Mutation, and Long Run Equilibria in Games," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(1), pages 29-56, January.
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    8. Simon Gachter & Ernst Fehr, 2000. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 980-994, September.
    9. Esteban, Joan & Ray, Debraj, 1999. "Conflict and Distribution," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 87(2), pages 379-415, August.
    10. Sethi, Rajiv & Somanathan, E, 2006. "A Simple Model of Collective Action," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(3), pages 725-747, April.
    11. Isaac, R. Mark & Walker, James M. & Williams, Arlington W., 1994. "Group size and the voluntary provision of public goods : Experimental evidence utilizing large groups," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 1-36, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Newton, Jonathan & Angus, Simon D., 2015. "Coalitions, tipping points and the speed of evolution," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 157(C), pages 172-187.
    2. Newton, Jonathan, 2012. "Coalitional stochastic stability," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 842-854.

    More about this item


    Collective action; group size; collective punishment; Lanchester's law;

    JEL classification:

    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions

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