From the family to the workplace to the marketplace, every facet of our lives is shaped by cooperative interactions. Yet everywhere we look, we are confronted by proof of how difficult cooperation can be - snarled traffic, polarized politics, overexploited resources, social problems that go ignored. The benefits to oneself of a free ride on the efforts of others mean that collective goals often are not met. But compared to most other species, people actually cooperate a great deal. Why is this?
Meeting at Grand Central brings together insights from evolutionary biology, political science, economics, anthropology, and other fields to explain how the interactions between our evolved selves and the institutional structures we have created make cooperation possible. The book begins with a look at the ideas of Mancur Olson and George Williams, who shifted the question of why cooperation happens from an emphasis on group benefits to individual costs. It then explores how these ideas have influenced our thinking about cooperation, coordination, and collective action. The book persuasively argues that cooperation and its failures are best explained by evolutionary and social theories working together. Selection sometimes favors cooperative tendencies, while institutions, norms, and incentives encourage and make possible actual cooperation.
Meeting at Grand Central will inspire researchers from different disciplines and intellectual traditions to share ideas and advance our understanding of cooperative behavior in a world that is more complex than ever before.
I have been looking for this book for more than a year: a clear entry point, and survey, of a cluster of ideas within economics, dealing with motives and dynamics within any organization, family group or society, toward cooperation or cheating. This is, to me, the most central concern of society, the greatest burden of any family, company, society, legal system, or deal. It is the central unspoken topic of politics: who are the free riders gaming and thus threatening the system? The rich? The poor? Various terms relate to this: agency problems (the people you hire or trust have motives to cheat), information asymmetry (different players know different things and exploit this); game theory (with various situations illustrating choices to cooperate or defect, such as "the prisoner's dilemma" and "the tragedy of the commons"). This book provides a lucid, carefully assembled, entry point and survey of these kinds of topics. I love a book that maps out and gives names to things I experience every day, that gives me a higher and clearer view and understanding of these things. In my search for this book, I have assembled many more technical books (which quickly leave the plain English discussion for lots of math), and now at last I feel I can have the comprehension to move into these more advanced levels. But this book is fine in itself, for the popular audience. There is much basis for wisdom and better choices here.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful
Good information, poor structure and bland writing style. This is essentially a college text book and reads like it. Skip the first and last chapter and it will probably be more enjoyable.