Emergence of complex institutions in a large population of self-governing communities

by   Seth Frey, et al.

Most aspects of our lives are governed by large, highly developed institutions that integrate several governance tasks under one authority structure. But theorists differ as to the mechanisms that drive the development of intricate governance systems from rudimentary beginnings. Is the emergence of regime complexity a symptom of the runaway accretion of impedimenta? Or does integration occur because a complex institution is better adapted to a complex environment? Here we examine the emergence of complex governance regimes in 5,000 sovereign, resource-constrained, self-governing online communities, ranging in scale from zero to thousands of users. These communities begin with zero population and no governance infrastructure, and as they grow they face challenging resource problems. Consequently, they are subject to selection pressures that make it possible to test the hypothesis that governance complexity can enhance community fitness. We find that a successful community's rules are more numerous, broader in scope, and more varied in type for communities that aspire to be large, relative to those that aspire to remain small. Large communities also tend to rely more on rules that concentrate power in administrators, and on rules that manage bad behavior. Overall, these measures of complexity increase with size among successful communities, suggesting that complexity can make institutions more effective at mobilizing large-scale collective responses to resource constraints.


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