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Inducing Peer Pressure to Promote Cooperation

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Cooperation in a large society of self-interested individuals is notoriously difficult to achieve when the externality of one individual's action is spread thin and wide on the whole society. This leads to the ‘tragedy of the commons’ in which rational action will ultimately make everyone worse-off. Traditional policies to promote cooperation involve Pigouvian taxation or subsidies that make individuals internalize the externality they incur. We introduce a new approach to achieving global cooperation by localizing externalities to one's peers in a social network, thus leveraging the power of peer-pressure to regulate behavior. The mechanism relies on a joint model of externalities and peer-pressure. Surprisingly, this mechanism can require a lower budget to operate than the Pigouvian mechanism, even when accounting for the social cost of peer pressure. Even when the available budget is very low, the social mechanisms achieve greater improvement in the outcome.