Economics and Philosophy

The hidden economy of esteem

Geoffrey Brennan a1 and Philip Pettit a1
a1 Australian National University


A generation of social theorists have argued that if free-rider considerations show that certain collective action predicaments are unresolvable under individual, rational choice – unresolvable under an arrangement where each is free to pursue their own relative advantage – then those considerations will equally show that the predicaments cannot be resolved by recourse to norms (Buchanan, 1975, p. 132; Heath, 1976, p. 30; Sober and Wilson, 1998, 156ff; Taylor, 1987, p. 144). If free-rider considerations explain why people do not spontaneously keep the streets clean, though they would each prefer unlittered streets, then those considerations will also explain why there is no effective norm against littering the streets.