POLISCI 101 Chapter 2: Collective Action Problem
Course CodePOLISCI 101
ProfessorRaymond La Raja
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Collective Action Problem
• The AOC showed that collective action was rather difficult. It was hard to get the groups
of states to do anything together in the national interest. The govt. couldn’t reach a
decision for the good of everybody involved and successfully implement it.
• Collective Action Problem is a situation in which everyone would benefit from a
particular action, but the action does not happen because it is rather difficult to coordinate
amongst individuals. Each individual thinking rationally about their own situation is less
inclined to do something for the collective good, even though they would all benefit from
• The immediate CAP was that the government was too weak to put down this isolated
rebellion. But the AOC revealed that CAP had a host of issues, like raising money to
defend the nation. The states were not putting in money to the national treasury because
they didn’t feel confident that others putting in their fair share, or they weren’t willing to
put a currency that everyone accepted.
• Two basic CAP:
• Coordination Difficulties: Hard to coordinate the actions of many groups, especially with
poor and slow information (which was common back then). The 13 colonies faced many
coordination difficulties with regards to who would take the lead, who would pay for
• Prisoner’s Dilemma: Every individual who could benefit from cooperating has a
powerful and irresistible incentive to break that agreement to exploit the other side
because they would do better (and they’re not sure the other side is going to commit to
the agreement). This is the CAP that the 13 colonies faced under the AOC. They had no
way to trust one another and make sure that deals were enforced. They needed some
mechanism to ensure that all states contributed to a common decision and that any state
would be punished for not sticking to that decision. If anyone could defect, then the
whole system could break down and you get a subpar outcome.
• Nevertheless, Shay’s rebellion showed that a stronger national government was certainly
necessary. Without a strong, central authority, we move closer to a state of nature (where
no one acts to put down mob rule or deal with problems).
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