Rami Olwan

All About CyberLaw, Copyright and Developing Countries

The Penguin and the Leviathan- How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest

I have read the book by Yochai Benkler entitled the “Penguin and the Leviathan- How Cooperation Triumphs over Self Interest” (Crown Business, 2011). This is one of the best books for Benkler because he tries to simplify his work to the wider audience (like Lawrence Lessig and others) which has been a long critique of his scholarship. It is a must read for anyone interested in learning how to motivate people working in business, law, education and the Internet.

Benkler argues that many of our social and economic systems are designed improperly because they rely on control or carrots and sticks systems that see individuals through the lens of self-interest, incentive, compensation, monitoring, punishment and hierarchical control (Leviathan and the Invisible Hand of the market). To motivate people, it is important to design systems that rely on engagement, communication, fairness and a sense of common purpose and identity (Penguin). To prove his argument, Benkler relies on a board range of disciplines in evolutionary biology, experimental economics, psychology, organizational sociology, neuroscience and communication studies (chapters 2- 5).

Benkler also provides real world examples from the Internet and beyond to suggest that “fairness is a critical component of motivation and behavior is independent of self- interest, empathy and solidarity”. To him “Humans have a basic need or desire to be treated fairly, and to participate in systems that treat us fairly” (chapter 6). He explains the role of norms and morals in shaping how people behave and cooperate with each other (chapter 7).

Benkler also explains that rewards and punishment can be ineffective in achieving the intended outcome (the example of paying money for blood donors, software developers and university professors) (chapter 8).  In his chapter on the business of cooperation, he explains based on various examples from Toyota, Southwest Airlines, open source, Wikipedia, music and the Obama political campaign that “business” can also work without being motivated by self- interest and instead by embracing a more humanly model (chapter 9). At the end he gives various suggestions and recommendations to design systems “in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good” (chapter 10).

This is an excellent book although it does not have any reference which I found problematic for someone interested to do more research in the area. It is also not specifically targeted to the Internet although it has some examples related to it. The recommendations provided in chapter 10 are quite general and must be more specific. Also, if we read the book’s argument we find that it is common sense that people will be motivated if we treat them better and fair. As an overall, I enjoyed reading the book and I would recommend it to anyone.

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