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A General Model of Social Dilemmas

Robert Gifford


Permit me to briefly re-state the central issues in resource dilemmas and public goods problems, that is, more generally, in social dilemmas. Each person and each group in this world curates a stream of natural resources that have been transformed into usable goods. Whenever we use a vehicle for transport, turn on a light, buy clothing, read a book, or even eat a carrot, natural resources have been transformed into products that are consumed and, usually but not always, one or more undesirable products (e.g., garbage, smoke, greenhouse gases, excess fertilizers, or toxic chemicals) are added to the environment. Of course, we need to consume some of these transformed natural resources to survive. Just as clearly, some persons consume far more than others, and usually find it easy to justify their consumption. Mindfully or not, individuals and groups use resources along a continuum that ranges from pure community or environmental interest to pure selfinterest. Public goods problems are, in many ways, similar. Individuals and groups decide whether to support common goals and projects.

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