Like Flies in a Jar? A Natural Experiment of Self-Control in an Organizational Social Dilemma with Large Stakes
49 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2017
Date Written: September 13, 2017
We study the practice of self-control in an organizational social dilemma when the stakes are large, using 47 years of vital census data from 18th century Sweden. From 1750 to 1800, ninety percent of Sweden (the peasantry) lived in a simple-structure organization called a bytvång or village commons. The amount of resources a village family received was a function of their size. During this period, crop failures left the population facing starvation. Using autoregressive time-series modeling, we test whether the people of Sweden continued to take steps toward increasing the stress on the commons by marrying and birthing children or practiced self-control. We find evidence that the peasantry – with little education, archaic agricultural practices, strong barriers to abortion and infanticide, and pressures by the Church and State to procreate – were less likely to marry and birth children (in or outside of wedlock) when the quality of the previous year’s harvest was poor compared to when it was bounteous. Our findings suggest that human population growth is not a social dilemma called a collective trap – which has been the assumption for 50 years. Rather, human population growth is an individual dilemma – suggesting that members of simple-structured organizations can unilaterally exercise self-control and manage resources through self-organizing.
Keywords: Human Population Growth, Social Dilemmas, Cooperation, Self-Organizing, Tragedy of the Commons, Individual Dilemma, Overpopulation, Temporal Discounting
JEL Classification: Q32, Q56, C22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation