The free rider.docx

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Political Science

The free rider: collective action failures in cycling and beyond Team GB’s strategy, team members would attempt to control the competition, chasing down breakaways and keeping the peloton (the main group of riders) together, in order to set Cavendish up for a sprint victory in the final kilometre. Given that the race is officially an individual competition, the prevalence of team tactics seems counter-intuitive, but cycling is a sport in which many team members are expected to sacrifice their own results for the benefit of the team. These riders, known as domestiques, exert themselves only to fall-off before the end of the race. Within the framework of a team, the rules are generally clear, with roles and responsibilities clearly outlined. However, once you move beyond the set of established rules that govern the behaviour of a team, the pursuit of certain objectives becomes much less clear and the need for the alignment of interests more acute. While Team GB put in an impressive effort trying to bring back the final breakaway group in Saturday’s race, given Cavendish’s prowess as a sprinter, there was little incentive for most of the teams to exert themselves (at great physical cost) in support of the British attempt to achieve this outcome. Those teams reluctant to arrive exhausted at the finish to witness a Brit sprint to victory (at least the ones not trying to actively protect the chances of their countrymen in the breakaway group), simply sat back and waited to see if the British effort would be sufficient at which point they might take advantage. These types of situations, of course, are not simply a feature of sporting events. Indeed the world of public policy is replete with cases in which the distribution of costs and benefits can prevent individuals or groups from productively working together to produce something that it is difficult for any single actor to produce alone. Examples range fromlocal emergency services, to national security and even global public goods like environmental protection. Work by Mancur Olson, Elinor Ostrom and others has demonstrated this challenge to be particularly salient in the case of public goods, where it is difficult to exclude anyone from benefitting once the good is produced, leading to free riders who don’t contri
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