Enforcement and the Evolution of Cooperation

The purpose of this article is to broadly characterize the political economy or institutionalist theory of enforcement and to present data that is at least a first step toward evaluating the managerial and transformationalist critiques. The first section will present a short, schematic summary of the role of enforcement as it is currently viewed in the “new institutions” or political economy literature in international relations. While doubtless familiar to many readers, this is an important point of departure. A notable portion of the debate about the role of enforcement continues to stem from differences in terminology and from the fact that the political economy theory of enforcement is far more complicated than the normal form specification of the archetypical Prisoners’ Dilemma game appears to suggest. Political economists do not argue that enforcement is always essential or even possible, or that Tit-for-Tat is always the optimal enforcement strategy. They make no prediction about the relative frequency with which different types of games underlie cooperation and make relatively few general claims about the character of the specific enforcement strategies that will be employed. What they do emphasize is that the choice of enforcement strategy will vary across contexts depending on factors such as the quality of compliance data, the nature of the good being regulated, and various kinds of uncertainty.