“Cooperation is the selfish act that hurts the larger group”

Tyler Cowen’s recent remark against team players reminded me of my paper a few years ago, Forming Voting Blocs and Coalitions as a Prisoner’s Dilemma: A Possible Theoretical Explanation for Political Instability:

Individuals in a committee or election can increase their voting power by forming coalitions. This behavior is shown here to yield a prisoner’s dilemma, in which a subset of voters can increase their power, while reducing average voting power for the electorate as a whole. This is an unusual form of the prisoner’s dilemma in that cooperation is the sefil sh act that hurts the larger group. Under a simple model, the privately optimal coalition size is approximately 1.4 times the square root of the number of voters. When voters’ preferences are allowed to di ffer, coalitions form only if voters are approximately politically balanced. We propose a dynamic view of coalitions, in which groups of voters choose of their own free will to form and disband coalitions, in a continuing struggle to maintain their voting power. This is potentially an endogenous mechanism for political instability, even in a world where individuals’ (probabilistic) preferences are fixed and known.

Cool jargon, huh? Here’s a pretty picture from the article:


And here’s a schematic of the reasoning: