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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Spring 2005

GOV 355M • 1 - Human Behavior as Rational Action - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
36355 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
BUR 212

Course Description

Contains a substantial writing component and fulfills part of the basic education requirement in writing. Course number may be repeated for credit when topics vary. The term "rational action" as used in the economic approach is generally equated with maximizing behavior. Individual human agents are assumed to have consistent and stable preference over alternatives each of which is assigned some "utility". Maximization entails choosing the course of action that yields the highest expected utility. One is rational to the extent one uses the best means to achieve one's goals. In this course, we will learn a variety of social and political models based on such a notion of "individual rationality" and to investigate the "collective consequences" that can be logically inferred from its assumptions. In particular, we will find through the "Prisoners' Dilemma", the "Tragedy of the Commons", and the "Free-Rider Problem" a contrast between "rational man" and "irrational society". Self-serving behavior of individuals does not usually lead to collectively satisfactory results. So this course is about the stories of the Prisoners, the Herdsmen, and the Free-Riders. As a matter of fact, we will show that the Dilemma, the Tragedy, and the Problem share essentially the same mathematical structure, and hence, they are essentially the same story, a story about human destiny, and the ways that have been thought of to escape from the seemingly inevitableness of such a destiny.

Grading Policy

There will be three paper assignments totaling 16-20 typewritten, double-spaced pages. The quality of a student's written expression is an important component that accounts for no less than 50% of his or her course grade.


Thomas C. Schelling (1978), "Micromotives and Macrobehavior" Norton Robert Axelrod (1984), "The Evolution of Cooperation" Basic Books Elinor Ostrom (1990), "Governing the Commons" Cambridge Others to be determined


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