Why do we cooperate?

Robert Axelrod Robert Axelrod, a political science professor at University of Michigan, argued in the 1980s that cooperation is the result of repeated interactions with the same people. In simple words, his argument was that people cooperate not because of trust in each other, but the trust in a promise of keeping a durable relationship that could benefit in the future. This he referred to as “the shadow of the future.”

Paying taxes is a kind of cooperation. Why do we do it? Because we believe that (1) most others are doing it, and (2) doing so is benefitial in the long run. Yes, you can say we pay the taxes because it’s the law. But if you think carefully, law is not what makes cooperation work. Yes, it can make it more successful, but the key to cooperation, as Axelrod observed, is the trust that what we are doing due to a law is good for the future. History has seen many revolutions when the people’s trust in such laws have been violated.