The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest
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What do Wikipedia, Zip Car’s business model, Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and a small group of lobster fishermen have in common? They all show the power and promise of human cooperation in transforming our businesses, our government, and our society at large. Because today, when the costs of collaborating are lower than ever before, there are no limits to what we can achieve by working together.
For centuries, we as a society have operated according to a very unflattering view of human nature: that, humans are universally and inherently selfish creatures. As a result, our most deeply entrenched social structures – our top-down business models, our punitive legal systems, our market-based approaches to everything from education reform to environmental regulation - have been built on the premise that humans are driven only by self interest, programmed to respond only to the invisible hand of the free markets or the iron fist of a controlling government.
In the last decade, however, this fallacy has finally begun to unravel, as hundreds of studies conducted across dozens of cultures have found that most people will act far more cooperatively than previously believed. Here, Harvard University Professor Yochai Benkler draws on cutting-edge findings from neuroscience, economics, sociology, evolutionary biology, political science, and a wealth of real world examples to debunk this long-held myth and reveal how we can harness the power of human cooperation to improve business processes, design smarter technology, reform our economic systems, maximize volunteer contributions to science, reduce crime, improve the efficacy of civic movements, and more.
For example, he describes how:
• By building on countless voluntary contributions, open-source software communities have developed some of the most important infrastructure on which the World Wide Web runs
• Experiments with pay-as-you-wish pricing in the music industry reveal that fans will voluntarily pay far more for their favorite music than economic models would ever predic
• Many self-regulating communities, from the lobster fishermen of Maine to farmers in Spain, live within self-regulating system for sharing and allocating communal resources
• Despite recent setbacks, Toyota’s collaborative shop-floor, supply chain, and management structure contributed to its meteoric rise above its American counterparts for over a quarter century.
• Police precincts across the nation have managed to reduce crime in tough neighborhoods through collaborative, trust-based, community partnerships.
A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of cooperation in 21st century life, The Penguin and the Leviathan not only challenges so many of the ways in which we live and work, it forces us to rethink our entire view of human nature.
brothers or cousins; they were competitors. And yet they found ways of sustained cooperation in ways that improved their own fitness. Here’s another example from the animal kingdom that sounds less like an episode of Survivor and more like one of Aesop’s fables. Let’s call this the fable of the Badger and the Coyote. In the National Elk Refuge, in Wyoming, a group of scientists observed that badgers and coyotes were collaborating to hunt ground squirrels. Coyotes, who are faster and have a larger
But it does make a very important point. A system that hinges on indirect reciprocity (paying it forward) assumes that the giver of today is likely to be the receiver of tomorrow, and that eventually, gains will come full circle. It can still be “sel sh” at the genetic level, in Dawkins’s terms, because it assumes that today’s donor gets, on average over a lifetime, at least as much as she gives. But what happens when someone breaks that circle by accepting the good deed and not paying it
kind of reputation than if I get caught holding up a liquor store. And once I develop that reputation (whether it be as a local hero or an inept crook), people in my population need not know me to know whether I am trustworthy and can thus be expected to reciprocate good deeds; they only need know my reputation. Biologist David Haig put it beautifully: “For direct reciprocity you need a face; for indirect reciprocity, you need a name.” But things can quickly get complicated with indirect
experimenter then multiplies whatever was transferred by some multiple, say 3. The trustee now has an opportunity to send back however much of that amount she wants to the investor. The obvious best—and fairest—result for both of them is for the investor to invest the entire $10, at which point the experimenter would add three times that much, or $30, for a total of $40. Then the trustee should transfer half that amount, $20, back to the investor, so that each shares equally in the maximum
the transactions are framed as cooperative rather than market-based; the sites make clear that some payment is expected, but without policing or finger-wagging. Still, you might be thinking, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are megastars—of course fans are willing to voluntarily pay for their music. But as it turns out, people act just as fairly and cooperatively when it comes to lesser known acts. In one study about these pay-as-youwish models, my colleagues Leah Belsky, Byron Kahr, Max