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Behavioral Aspects of the International Law of Global Public Goods and Common Pool Resources

Authors: Anne van Aaken
Source: American Journal of International Law
Year: 2018


Free-riding on global public goods (GPG) and overuse of common-pool resources (CPR) are problems with important implications for international law. This note argues that behavioral insights from laboratory experiments, in which individuals engage in public goods games, can contribute, despite the immense difference in context, to understanding how best to optimize the design of international legal regimes dealing with global public goods and common-pool resources. While some such insights are now reflected, most often implicitly, in the designs of certain of these regimes and serve to enhance their effectiveness, the value of such features is understated in the scholarship—which most often remains grounded in purely rational choice theories. Behavioral economics, to the extent it supplements or displaces rational-choice models in institutional design, may enable deeper and more sustained forms of international cooperation. While they have largely gone unnoticed, insights into how people behave need to be incorporated into international lawyers’ assessments of existing treaties and need to be considered in the design of new ones.

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