The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Reciprocity and Collective Action

  • Rajiv Sethi
Reference work entry


A collective action problem arises when the private incentives faced by individual members of a group are not properly aligned with their shared goals. Such problems can be overcome if opportunistic behaviour is restrained by explicit sanctions or internalized social norms. In particular, collective action is facilitated by norms of reciprocity that induce individuals to undertake pro-social actions whenever they expect others to do the same. From this perspective, collective action requires coordinated expectations and effective communication. Experimental evidence suggests that reciprocity norms are widespread in human populations, and evolutionary mechanisms that can account for their prevalence have been identified.


Assortative matching Cheap talk Collective action Cooperation Coordination problems and communication Free-rider problem Public goods Reciprocity Social norms Subgame perfection Tragedy of the commons 

JEL Classifications

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rajiv Sethi
    • 1
  1. 1.