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Climate change is arguably the greatest collective-action problem the world has ever faced (Barrett 257). It would be inevitable to completely reduce all CO2 emissions because both developed and developing countries are continuously economically developing at different rates. Policy makers just like the general population have various spectrums of viewpoints on reducing CO2 emissions. Some people may want to really cut down on CO2 emissions while others may think that keeping the CO2 emissions at the same level or increasing the amount may actually benefit the economy.
This is to say that economic development benefit outweighs more than measures to save the environment. Whatever the case may be, people who have common interests will come together and advocate whatever their opinions are on various issues. It is true that in order to tackle issues or implement policies having one person solves these major problems would be extremely difficult. At times, issues like reducing CO2 emissions require government intervention because it is usually the private sector that caused this negative externality to happen in the first place. This why many individuals who share a common goal and interest may come to form interest groups and participate in lobbying. Interest groups exist to influence the policies that policymakers make when are elected. These groups can vary in sizes in terms of membership. The rising issue that policymakers who want to reduce CO2 emissions are that the ability for interest groups or lobbyists to push for CO2 emission may be gradually harder to organize especially when these groups get much larger in size, which raises the issues of collective action. On top of that, policymakers also have to face the issue of competing with other policymakers and interest groups who have different viewpoints, such as not wanting to reduce CO2 emission levels or still keeping it relatively the same.
Deriving a simpler version of a collective action situation would be the prisoner’s dilemma that involves two agents. In this example, we can use two small groups or two individuals. It is rational that people and groups would work in favor to maximize their payout in reducing CO2 emissions. There can be situations where if everyone decides to coordinate and tackle the issue, every single person could potentially benefit more than if he or she to both works in his or her own interest. There can also be times where both parties work for their own interest and one could be worse off and the other is better off. It is not true that people are all inherently selfish that they are working in their own interest because in real life situations there could simply not be enough information for an individual to know whether that if they could coordinate they would be able to gain more if then if they were to work in their own interest, hence the lack of transparency. Collective action is similar to the prisoner’s dilemma but on a much larger scale. With multiple countries making decisions simultaneously at once, the theory shows that the probability of every single person making the same decision to improve is highly unlikely. In addition, with so many people having their own personal opinion, it would be extremely hard for them all to coordinate in a common interest as well. Olson’s argument is, first, that groups are difficult to create and maintain, and, second, that smaller groups seem less afflicted by these difficulties than larger groups (Shepsle & Bonchek 241). Even though the prisoner’s dilemma gives a basic theoretical model, it has its limitations on explaining the underlying reasons and intuition behind why people or groups make their decisions in the first place.
It would seem like with a larger group of people, there is a larger aggregate support in targeting the issue and reaching the common goal. It is a logical assumption that a smaller group of policymakers that come together, there is a higher probability they will agree on a standard to go through with. Small groups are tighter knit in the sense that their members are more exposed to personal communication as well as interpersonal persuasion. This contributes more transparency amongst its members and makes it more evident who would be the slackers within the group. The irony here is that larger groups may seem to have more power and have a larger voice on implementing policies, but a larger group may lack the transparency as well as maintaining consistency and uniformity towards the common goal. The larger a group is, the farther it will fall short of providing an optimal supply of any collective good, and the less likely that it will act to obtain even a minimal amount of such a good. In short, the larger the group the less likely it will further its common interests (Chamberland 707). To a degree, larger groups have more trouble in meeting common interests. Larger groups also tend to have a greater chance of facing organization costs, enforcement problems as well as a lack of stringent social control. Olson states that unless the number of individuals is quite small, rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interests (Olstrom 5). This is evident to see why that even smaller groups may have less man over in terms of numbers but have a better capability in being more organize and efficient as well. More so, smaller groups are more successful in forming and pushing their agenda.
Before a policymaker has the capabilities to pursue his goals of reducing CO2 emissions is that it is worthy of him or her to gain support from the public as well as favoring interest groups. Through further analysis of different real life and theoretical situations, Olson’s theory of collective action will reveal that individuals, will not contribute toward a collective incentive if the extra benefits they gain through receiving that good would be less than the cost of their contribution. Even though individual policymaker contributions contribute to the aggregate goal, there may be a possibility that numerous people within the group would not adhere to the standard, thus making individuals who did make the contribution in the first place more irrelevant in solving the issue (Olstrom 5). Voluntary compliance with behavioral sanctions of a provision of a public good is more likely in small communities than in large, reliance on voluntary compliance in large communities or groups leads to free riding and the under- or nonprovisional of the public good (Muller 13). The individual member of the typical large organization, his own efforts will not have a noticeable effect on the situation of his organization, and he can enjoy any improvements brought about by others whether or not he has worked in support of his organization (Olson 16).
At times getting individuals to collaborate should not strictly rely on the basis of only focusing on the general collective group goals. As mentioned individuals have vastly varying views on what should be the ideal policy. As numbers in a group get larger, you will start to see more deviations from the general collective group goal. Policy makers within these groups search for things separate from the main group mission that can be withheld from those who do not contribute. This so-called selective incentives, also known as Olson’s by-product argument, is essentially adding perks or pork aside from the common goal in order to not only prevent individuals to free ride as well as an incentive in staying in the group altogether. Some of these gains could include and are not limited to material benefits, informational benefits, solidary benefits, and purposive benefits. Policy makers have to rely on some of these interest groups to design these corrective mechanisms in order to stay afloat, especially in the long term. And just as a state cannot support itself by solely voluntary contributions, or by selling its basic services on the market, neither can other large organization support themselves without providing some sanction, or some attraction distinct from the public good itself, that will lead the individuals to help bear the burdens of maintaining the organization (Olson 16).
By providing more of these on the side benefits, the interest group will still have the capability to hold together under one common goal. This way this would give a policymaker more of an incentive to continue its agenda of reducing CO2 emissions with more support from more organized interest groups.
Given that larger groups may have a harder time on maintaining their common goals, a real-life example would be the formation of international environmental agreements (IEA). Some of the common examples of IEAs are the Montreal Protocol, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement (Meng 1). Recalling that CO2 emissions are known to be a global public bad, a common issue is that many IEAs are hard to achieve because public goods/bads have non-excludability and these would imply incentives for countries to free-ride. Using countries as representative of individuals and IEAs as representatives of interest groups, countries can free-ride by choosing not to join an IEA, opting not to comply with IEA that it is associated with, and choosing to join a less stringent IEA. According to the world bank, there are over 193 countries in the world and there is not really an international government to enforce these agreements (World Bank 1). By the rules of Olson’s theory, it would extremely be hard for all these countries to all collaborate together and push for policymakers to reduce CO2 emissions altogether. Despite some countries who have evidently high CO2 levels and have policymakers who decide to comply to reduce its emissions, some of the policymakers of other countries have no need to consider reducing emissions. In addition, there may be countries who already know some countries are taking measures in reducing CO2 emissions and free ride and would still benefit for cleaner air if they were to do nothing in the first place!
Policymakers who are eager in reducing CO2 may face a problem of the opposition where policymakers who are indifferent or are encouraging more CO2 emissions into the environment. Some of the reasons for this is that these policymakers and interest groups may feel that the environment does not really seem to change all the much or would think economic growth would outweigh the reduction of CO2 emissions into the environment. Policymakers would also run into the issues of smaller interest groups of the opposing side who tend to be more organized, according to Olson’s theory. On one hand, larger groups that favor the policy maker in reducing CO2 emissions tend to be harder to organize, thus delaying or preventing legislation for their policies to pass. On the other hand, smaller groups would have an easier capability on getting their policies passed. A real-life example would be large corporal gas companies, such as Exxon Mobil, BP, and Shell. These companies may seem bigger than size, but in terms of numbers, they are much smaller than larger interest groups who support an increase of CO2 emissions polluted into the environment.
The harsh reality that a policymaker who wants to reduce CO2 emissions is that many of these gas companies have a lot of power in government where they can buy their way into catering to their policies. CO2 emissions is definitely a concern for harming the environment, but many of these gas companies would rather profit more from natural gas and economic gain. Since they have such economic gain, they essentially have the capability to buy off or pay politicians to get what they want to be passed. Researchers acknowledge that they were handicapped by a lack of transparency about corporate donations and lobbying, which made it difficult to determine exactly how companies were trying to exert political influence (Guardian 1). In addition, it would seem like money is disproportionately influential and industries such as these gas companies that generate a lot of money could have a further benefit and add on to the disproportion amount of influence when it comes to legislation and policymaking. Policymakers who lobby for these companies is definitely an alarming issue because this only makes it harder for policymakers who genuinely want to reduce CO2 emission to be masked over by even more increases of power and influence. As these gas companies are also smaller in size, they are much more organized and there are fewer discrepancies of varying viewpoints on what policies they want to get passed. Gas companies are just one example of more efficient collection actions in comparison to the environment. Even seeing from an economics perspective, producers, such as these gas companies are more successful at forming interest groups than consumers or individuals themselves.
Interest groups can vary in shape and sizes and if they at least have the ability to come together, they can influence policymakers on what legislation should be passed. It could be true that in democracies that the freedom to have interest groups can freely organize. But another issue that policymakers that want to reduce CO2 emissions have to be aware that in the modern day that there are smaller interest groups such as gas companies that can be so powerful that their voices are able to crowd out everyone else on the playing field. Even though Olson’s theory stating that smaller groups are more effective in organizing and staying in a coalition, these smaller groups not only have more money, are better educated, have access to more information, and are able to spread their influence more articulately. Policy makers have to face these implications beyond the simple human behavior problems that would occur in a collective action situation in an interest group.
Although collective action may seem like a general inherent issue amongst larger groups, Richard Wagner did comment that groups can still do particularly well despite its size. He commented that Olson’s theory was too pessimistic and had very little to say about the internal workings of groups (Shepsle & Boncheck 244). He suggests that even in collective groups, there are specific individuals, such as political entrepreneurs, that would go out of their way and have the capability to revamp the interest group as a whole. Groups that manage to get themselves organized at a low-level activity often take the next step of creating leaders and leading institutions in order to increase the activity level and resulting operation dividends (Shepsle & Boncheck 246). Olson’s by-product theory does show its limitation to the extent that it only reveals the corrective solutions of the problems of collective action without really considering a deeper insight of individuals to contribute to internal workings within the collective action group. Even to the extent of a policymaker, Olson’s by-product theory only reveals the problems of what an interest group would face and patch up the issue. Selective incentives would resolve the paradox of collective action and political entrepreneurs would be the ones who are able to dissolve the paradox altogether (Shepsle & Boncheck 246). Although there is validity towards Olson’s by-product theory, within collective groups alone there is definitely room for institutional solutions to the problems of collective action. Even though policymakers do face inherent issues of collective action, there are corrective mechanisms that can help alleviate these problems as well. Both selective incentives and political entrepreneurs are vital in the efficient and effectiveness of collective action altogether.
Despite the problems that collection action may have, it helps bridge the gap between a policy and actually getting the policy to be implemented. Reducing CO2 emissions cannot be done with a single individual alone. Collective action can help get people together and spark up whatever incentives are needed in order to solve issues whether it may be a negative externality or an improvement in society. Policymakers can better rely on these collective actions because they are indicators that people in society want the government to solve issues that the private sector would not be able to do individually, collectively, or even voluntarily. As much as CO2 emissions is a collective issue caused by multiple agents in society, collective action, lobbying, and government are a collaborative process to encourage legislation in efforts to counteract a component of climate change.
Special interest groups and lobbying are all methods on convincing policymakers, in this context, help reduce CO2 emissions in the environment. Collection action is a common issue that is inherently derived from the fact that people may choose to not cooperate and act within their own interests. An example such as the prisoner’s dilemma shows collective action problems in a simple theoretical model. As larger numbers in groups occur, Olson’s theory reveals that it would be even harder for individuals to attempt to have a more solidified effort towards a common goal. In addition, people in a larger group would actually have deviating views and will decide to free ride on the efforts of others while minimally contributing. Policymakers would have to be aware that within these interest groups themselves corrective mechanisms would be needed in order to keep these groups together, whether it would be with selective incentives or political entrepreneurs. Olson’s by-product theory of selective incentives does have its limitations in that in comparison to political entrepreneurs, political entrepreneurs provide more of the inner workings of improving the interest group rather than stating out the benefits that would be obtained by only participating. Even though interest groups, lobbyists, and policymakers could all have varying viewpoints and efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, they all share the common goal that they all find an intrinsic value of what reducing CO2 emissions in the environment altogether.
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