Read: Free Riding
Free riding — to an economist — is a rather opportunistic and consequentially rational behavior humans show in situations where they can reap private benefits from not participating in an action while still enjoying the public benefits of other’s participation. If, of course, everyone wants to enjoy the private benefits and nobody contributes there are no public benefits, and in the end, if everyone just behaves opportunistically, they may be worse off than if everyone, or at least a substantial number of people, contributed.
Richard Tuck poses the question whether this can indeed be rational behavior — again, to an economist, rational behavior is just behavior that is logically consistent with a person’s preferences that, in turn, need to conform to only a few innocuous axioms. (Ok, I am understating.) He argues that if an action is in some way efficacious and therefore causal for the ultimate result, it has to be rational to perform the action. He presents a rather long winded argument about negligibility that in my opinion ultimately does not necessarily support his conclusions. And it seems, this is not just my opinion…
In brief, I do not agree with Tuck. At all. And this is not because I just do not like some of his implications. Still, his book is a rather nice historical account of the notion of rationality of cooperation in public good and competitive scenarios in philosophy, political science and economics.