Cooperation and Conflict: Perspectives From Economics and Beyond

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Hyatt Regency Chicago, Regency A
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Christopher Blattman, University of Chicago

The Historical Organization of Authority in Africa

James A. Robinson
,
University of Chicago
Jacob Moscona
,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nathan Nunn
,
Harvard University

Abstract

Historically authority in Africa was organized according to kinship, age and state based hierarchy. Though economists have recently focused on how historical state centralization influences development outcomes today, they have not systematically disaggregated societies along these other dimensions. We provide a taxonomy of these different ways of organizing society and show how they intersect with the extent of centralization in interesting ways. We present tentative evidence that not just centralization, but these other features of pre-colonial African societies are correlated with development outcomes today.

Social Conflict and the Evolution of Unequal Conventions

Suresh Naidu
,
Columbia University
Sung-ha Hwang
,
Sogang University
Samuel Bowles
,
Santa Fe Institute

Abstract

Many changes in social inequality are first expressed in novel social norms, well before being institutionalized formally in law or policy. A large qualitative literature suggests that decentralized social conict and collective action often contribute to this bottom up process of change. The U.S. Civil Rights movement provides our motivating example, with de facto desegregation preceding the voting rights act in response to widespread collective disruptions of Jim Crow norms. We then present a model of the evolution of unequal social norms, or conventions, that incorporates social conflict into large 2-population, 2-strategy evolutionary dynamics on networks. We show that when stochastic mutations in an evolutionary game are generalized to allow intentional deviance from adherence to the status quo norm by one population, a number of empirically anomalous features of the standard approach are eliminated. With intentional mutations, transitions between conventions are driven by the idiosyncratic play of the side that stands to benefit should a transition occur, and in the long run larger populations are disfavored. We derive conditions on mutation rates, population size, and network structure under which risk-dominated conventions are stochastically stable, showing when unequal social conventions can persist for long periods.

Conflict and Cooperation Among the Turkana: An Anthropological Perspective

Sarah Mathew
,
Arizona State University

Abstract

Unlike other animals, humans cooperate extensively in large groups comprised of genetically unrelated individuals. This unique form of cooperation could have evolved through cultural group selection, i.e. selection among populations having different culturally transmitted norms. I will present findings from the Turkana, a politically uncentralized population of pastoralists in Kenya which indicate that: 1) the Turkana maintain costly large-scale cooperation in warfare through peer punishment of free riders; 2) Turkana norms regulating punishment help solve the second-order free rider problem and promote group-beneficial punitive behavior; and 3) Turkana norms regulating warfare benefit the cultural group, not smaller or larger social units. The nature and scale of cooperation and conflict is consistent with selection acting on the level of cultural groups, suggesting that cultural group selection has played a key role in the evolution of human pro-sociality.

Why Being Wrong Can Be Right: Evidence From Witchcraft Beliefs in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

Raul Sanchez De La Sierra
,
University of California-Berkeley
Nathan Nunn
,
Harvard University

Abstract

Surveying human society across space or time, one sees many examples of deeply rooted and widely-held beliefs that are most-likely untrue. Example include, beliefs about witchcraft, magic, ordeals, and superstitions. How is it that these incorrect beliefs can be so prevalent and persistent? We consider this question through case studies that examine the superstitions and magic associated with conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Focusing in particular on superstitions related to bullet-proofing, we provide theory and case-study evidence showing how the incorrect beliefs, although harmful at the individual-level, provide significant benefits at the group-level.
JEL Classifications
  • N0 - General
  • O5 - Economywide Country Studies