While the benefits of common and public goods are shared, they tend to be scarce when contributions are provided voluntarily. Failure to cooperate in the provision or preservation of these goods is fundamental to sustainability challenges, ranging from local fisheries to global climate change. In the real world, such cooperative dilemmas occur in multiple interactions with complex strategic interests and frequently without full information. We argue that voluntary cooperation enabled across overlapping coalitions (akin to polycentricity) not only facilitates a higher generation of non-excludable public goods, but it may also allow evolution toward a more cooperative, stable, and inclusive approach to governance. Contrary to any previous study, we show that these merits of multi-coalition governance are far more general than the singular examples occurring in the literature, and they are robust under diverse conditions of excludability, congestion of the non-excludable public good, and arbitrary shapes of the return-to-contribution function. We first confirm the intuition that a single coalition without enforcement and with players pursuing their self-interest without knowledge of returns to contribution is prone to cooperative failure. Next, we demonstrate that the same pessimistic model but with a multi-coalition structure of governance experiences relatively higher cooperation by enabling recognition of marginal gains of cooperation in the game at stake. In the absence of enforcement, public-goods regimes that evolve through a proliferation of voluntary cooperative forums can maintain and increase cooperation more successfully than singular, inclusive regimes.
Recommended citation: Vítor V Vasconcelos, Phillip M Hannam, Simon A Levin, and Jorge M Pacheco “Coalition-structured governance improves cooperation to provide public goods” 10 9194 Scientific Reports (2020)