CFDP 1854R

Kantian Optimization: An Approach to Cooperative Behavior


Publication Date: March 2012

Revision Date: October 2013

Pages: 58


Although evidence accrues in biology, anthropology and experimental economics that homo sapiens is a cooperative species, the reigning assumption in economic theory is that individuals optimize in an autarkic manner (as in Nash and Walrasian equilibrium). I here postulate a cooperative kind of optimizing behavior, called Kantian. It is shown that in simple economic models, when there are negative externalities (such as congestion effects from use of a commonly owned resource) or positive externalities (such as a social ethos reflected in individuals’ preferences), Kantian equilibria dominate Nash-Walras equilibria in terms of efficiency. While economists schooled in Nash equilibrium may view the Kantian behavior as utopian, there is some — perhaps much — evidence that it exists. If cultures evolve through group selection, the hypothesis that Kantian behavior is more prevalent than we may think is supported by the efficiency results here demonstrated.


Kantian equilibrium, Social ethos, Implementation

JEL Classification Codes:  D60, D62, D64, C70, H30