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Plutoware delimited : Key Lessons from A Cooperative Species, Part 1.


This is part 1 of "14 lessons from A Cooperative Species, Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution" This part gives the highlights of evolutionary biology and places cooperative economics in context with competing theories.

Part i presents the key takeaways.

Part 0 explores each of the 14 lessons.

Evolution of sociobiology

“I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene for selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behavior.” -- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976)

“Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence, nothing can be effected. … social and moral qualities would tend … be diffused throughout the world. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1873)

With which do you think they agree? Yes, Darwin.

Numerous advances in sociobiology also inform social behavior:

Multi-level selection may be of considerably greater importance among humans than among other animals given the following characteristics:

Among the consequences of these are minimizing within-group differences through egalitarianism, consensus decision making and conformist behaviors.

Other animals do some of these things, but no animal does all of these as well as people do. These caused groups to win out over other groups, favoring the individual characteristics within groups that won.

Competing alternative explanations

A rather different interpretation of human altruism and its evolution is that, behaviors that seem to be altruistic are just self-interest with a long time horizon.

Competing models for explaining cooperation

  1. Inclusive Fitness -- 1930, 1964

    • Kin-based Altruism -- 1964
    • Group-based Altruism (multi-level selection) -- 1977 , 1982, 1990
    • Network-based Altruism -- 2006
  2. Reciprocal Altruism & Mutualism -- 1971

    • Signaling Reputation -- 1973 , 1990 , 1975
    • Indirect Reciprocity -- 1987 , 1986
    • Repeated Games Folk Theorem -- 1981 , 1986

An important parameter in these models is what economists term the rate of time preference. For example, reciprocal altruism could have gotten started by piggybacking on kin-based altruism.

Perhaps humans are simply able to mentally simulate the future better. Perhaps we simply have a longer time preference parameter. After all, non-human animals are relatively more impatient. Behaviors that at first appeared to be reciprocal have on further study been better explained as simple mutualism in which the benefit to the actor compensates for the cost of the action regardless of the action taken by the other.

Reciprocal Altruism in Large Groups

To illustrate the consequences of extending the reciprocal altruism model to groups larger than two, we will develop an agent-based model. A large population consists of N groups of n members each, and each group plays a public goods game repeatedly d times. We will call this series of d rounds an encounter.

Reputation: Indirect Reciprocity

Here they steel man a competing theory, called the standing model. This is an alternative mechanism of cooperation where individuals remember who cooperated with their partners in the previous round and those who did not.

The “standing strategy” is :

  1. cooperate if and only if your current partner is in good standing,
  2. except that if you accidentally defected the previous period, then
  3. cooperate in this period unconditionally, thereby restoring your status as a member in good standing.

Indirect reciprocity and signaling models are similar in that the payback for the individual’s cooperative action comes from third parties.

The two models differ in a subtle way.

Example of indirect reciprocity: I want to associate with the hunter who shares his ample prey with other members of the group because I too would like a share of meat.

Example of the signaling model: I want to associate with the hunter because the fact that he has lots of meat to share indicates that he is physically able and would be a good mate or coalition partner. In other words, having meat to share is correlated with some other desirable quality.

Part i : Introduction.

Part 0 : Overview of 14 key lessons of cooperative economics.

Part 2 : Failures of non-cooperative theory.

Part 3 : Evolutionary economics, rise of institutions, and the co-evolution of genes and culture.