Crowding out Citizenship

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Article: Crowding Out Citizenship. Elinor Ostrom. Scandinavian Political Studies. Volume 23 Issue 1, Pages 3 - 16, 17 Dec 2002



"The currently accepted theory of collective action presumes that individuals are helplessly trapped in social dilemmas. This has led to a form of policy analysis that presumes external authorities must solve all collective-action problems. The presumed universal need for externally implemented incentives is based, however, on a single model of rational behavior. This model has been shown to be an inadequate foundation to explain extensive empirical findings from the field and the experimental laboratory related to nonmarket settings. Thus, it is necessary to adopt a broader theory of human behavior that posits multiple types of individuals – including rational egoists as well as conditional cooperators – and examines how the contexts of collective action affect the mix of individuals involved. I will briefly review the empirical evidence related to intrinsic motivations and how external incentives may crowd out or crowd in behaviors that are based on intrinsic preferences. I then discuss the delicate problem of designing institutions that enhance citizenship rather than crowding it out. The penchant for neat, orderly hierarchical systems needs to be replaced with a recognition that complex, polycentric systems are needed to cope effectively with complex problems of modern life and to give all citizens a more effective role in the governance of democratic societies." (