Is multilateral enforcement vulnerable to bilateral renegotiation?

With S. Nageeb Ali and Yilin David Yang

Abstract: In a multilateral enforcement regime, a player who cheats on one partner is punished by many partners. But if partners can renegotiate in private, they can subvert the power of the multilateral punishment. We introduce a new notion of "bilateral renegotiation proofness" that applies to multilateral games with private monitoring. For symmetric networked environments, we characterize an optimal bilateral renegotiation proof equilibrium. While players’ ability to renegotiate bilaterally is indeed socially costly, it is perhaps not as costly as one might expect. In densely connected communities, the proportional cost imposed by bilateral renegotiation declines as the number of participants grows, and vanishes in the limit.

Working paper 1/10/2016

Ostracism and forgiveness

With S. Nageeb Ali

Conditionally accepted by The American Economic Review

Abstract: Many communities rely upon ostracism to enforce cooperation: if an individual shirks in one relationship, her innocent neighbors share information about her guilt in order to shun her, while continuing to cooperate among themselves. However, a strategic victim may herself prefer to shirk, rather than report others' deviations truthfully. If guilty players are to be permanently ostracized, then such deviations are so tempting that cooperation in any relationship is bounded by what the partners could obtain through bilateral enforcement. We show that ostracism can improve upon bilateral enforcement if it is tempered by forgiveness, through which guilty players are eventually readmitted to cooperative society.

Major update: Working paper 7/7/2015

NSF award on social networks

Nageeb Ali and I have been awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation Economics Program, entitled “Enforcing Cooperation in Networked Societies.” Stay tuned for our first working paper soon (Update: now available), and lots of great projects to follow after that.

Abstract excerpt: The foundation of economic activity and growth is in the ability of individuals to trust and trade with each other over time. Throughout human history, much of economic activity occurs in realms where formal legal institutions are unwilling or unsuited to enforce cooperative behavior. A growing literature on informal enforcement suggests that the networked pattern of social relationships plays a key role in supporting cooperation: as information about past behavior diffuses through the network, an individual who deviates in a partnership is punished not only by her partner but also by those who come to learn about it. Our research program studies how communities enforce cooperation through their social networks.

Enforcing cooperation in networked societies

With S. Nageeb Ali

Abstract: Which social norms and networks maximize cooperation in bilateral relationships? We study a network of players in which each link is a repeated bilateral partnership with two-sided moral hazard. The obstacle to community enforcement is that each player observes the behavior of her partners in their partnerships with her, but not how they behave in other partnerships. We introduce a new metric for the rate at which information diffuses in a network, which we call viscosity, and show that it provides an operational measure for how conducive a network is to cooperation. We prove that clique networks have the lowest viscosity and that the optimal equilibrium of the clique generates more cooperation and higher average utility than any other equilibrium of any other network. This result offers a strategic foundation for the perspective that tightly knit groups foster the most cooperation. We apply this framework to analyze favor exchange arrangements, decentralized trade in networked markets, and social collateral.

Working paper 10/31/2012