Problem of collective action | By Muhammad Unaid

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Problem of collective action

UNITY is strength as the saying goes. Collective action is what causes revolutions, and it takes time for its effect to materialize.

Where there are benefits of collective action there are also some problems with collective action that often arises.

The problem arises when there is conflict among the interests of the groups as well as individuals.

The conflict occurs among these agents of the societies because of their selfish nature and rational behavior, when one group or individual only thinks about them and not for others then the objective of the collective actions doesn’t prevail further.

Due to the selfishness of one entity, no one is better off rather it leads them to be worst off. The problem of collective action is pervasive and, fundamental for social existence.

There are numerous barriers to collective action, but free riding is frequently cited as one of them specifically during the provision of the public good which is non-excludable and non-rival.

Communities struggle with coordination and assurance issues in addition to free riding. It isthe social dilemma that isubiquitousinall sectors of society.

This is the social dilemma that occurs when agents are forced to provide collectively poor results in terms of aggregate welfare.

In economics, an example of the problem of collective actions is represented in game theory by the Prisoners dilemma which depicts individuals being better off while coordinating or cooperation but due to lack of cooperation both individuals or the group become worst off and lose the socially optimal outcome which in general equilibrium sense is also known as Pareto optimal point.

The tragedy of commons also arises which is a situation that occurs where there are common resources in a society and individuals or groups due to their rational choice or decisions use the resource heartlessly and don’t consider others’ needs.

In the meanwhile, these people also have no investment sense to tackle the problem they just utilize the resources consequently, the availability of common resources is depleted over time.

There are many examples ofthe tragedy of common like endangered species of our environment which have limited access like Markhor, Snow leopards, Brown bears, etc.

found in the northern and central regions of Pakistan. People hunted too much and didn’t think about the coming situation that they are going to deplete if overhunting prevails for longer periods.

Hunting for the purpose of meat and horns of Markhor, similarly hunting of snow leopards for their pelt leads their population to decline extremely.

For this reason, Markhor is declared an endangered species by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 1994.

They are then preserved at National Parks and now their numbers increased. This is an example at a small scale where factors like reputation and reciprocation are affecting the sense of cooperation among individuals in society.

It means that people or individuals cooperate with each other if assured of coordination. Further, the problem of collective action may arise on large scale as well i.e, the pollution caused by industrial zone or households in an unlimited amount which is deteriorating our common resource,i.e. the atmosphere.

A consequence of pollution may be beneficial for some entities in society but at the mass level, it is creating a mess in the form of climate change.

Pakistan is one of the entities that is suffering the worst in the present arena of climate change for which the global communities are responsible and all these happened due to the lack of cooperation and coordination at the global level.

Instead of compensation from global elites and responsible countries, our country is still in a harsh and critical situation.

Because of the recent floods in 2022 too many destructions occur in the whole region of the country, and thousands of lives were wasted with the loss of infrastructure like roads, houses, hospitals, etc.

Agriculture sector is severely affected as thousands of acres of land become barren with the loss of crops to which the livelihood of people depends on.

The effect of climate change is so much severe that the weather pattern has totally changed now, with severe heat strokes during summers, unexpected rainfalls, and floods.

How do we tackle all such situations as extremely hot weather is the most important issue of large-scale collective action problems in which a large number of anonymous actors are effecting having big external impacts.

Such a large-scale collective action problem undermines the potential for cooperation and coordination because of the large number of actors in which the potential for cooperation gets limited.

The spatial distance among the geographical territories also aggravates the large-scale collective action problems.

Given the above example of climate change, it is hard to monitor the responsible’s at the global level due to spatial distances.

Ahead of suffering from climate change, we are also exposed to antimicrobial resistance and the exploitation of natural resources but we may see the real consequences when faced with it in the distant future.

Instead of vast challenges existing with the collective action we can combat it by coordination both on small as well large scale collective action.

There are certain examples of cooperation on large scale like different accords regarding climate change, urban planning, recycling initiatives to health care provision.

We have shown that with such steps we can solve our coordination problems but our biggest problems are still ahead.

For this, we can conduct research to design and implement various collective action policies and regulations accordingly so that we can shed a ray of hope to get rid of such collective action issues.

For this a scientist Ken Caldeira once said, “People have to sacrifice a little bit of their short-term self-interest to help the world be a better place in the long term.

And how you get people to do that, I think, is the most important research that can be done.”

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad