Does social cooperation affect macroeconomic performance?


The Social Cooperation Research Hub of Rebuilding Macroeconomics is seeking to fund pilot research projects concerning the social foundations of economic activities. The Hub thereby aims to focus on an important gap in macroeconomic analysis, namely, the influence of social groups on economic decisions and the influence of these decisions on social groups. Understanding the social underpinnings of economic activities requires an investigation of social motives driving economic decisions, enabling an understanding for the role of social integration and fragmentation in shaping macroeconomic performance. The research will aim to provide guidelines for the conduct of macroeconomic policies.

The research of the hub rests on the following ideas: (1) Economic cooperation requires social cooperation. The Hub will study the social substrates of economic cooperation, with a view to understanding the social relations underlying economic activities and deriving appropriate policy recommendations. (2) Social cooperation has traditionally been shaped by social groups of limited size. The bounds of social cooperation can be extended through strategic communication, which can align the identities, interests and motives of large bodies of people. (3) The scale of current macroeconomic problems requires social cooperation that exceeds the bounds of our current social groups. While we need larger groups, social fragmentation is increasing, generating declining levels of trust and cooperation. (4) Effective macroeconomic policies need measures that extend the bounds of social cooperation in consonance with the desired bounds of economic cooperation. Hence, the design of macroeconomic policies should be accompanied by policies that build social identities corresponding to our economic objectives.

Research to be funded

The Hub has approximately £360,000 to disperse for projects that run till the Autumn of 2020. The Hub leaders have discretion in choosing between large and small projects.  The activities of the Hub will involve research workshops, conferences, and policy roundtables.

Workshops and seminars

The initial call for research will be preceded by two brainstorming workshops that discuss examples of possible lines of research that might be funded, and generate an exchange of ideas around which further work can crystalize. The workshops will investigate both the social forces underlying economic decisions and the economic forces underlying social relations.

The ideas discussed in the workshops are meant to generate interdisciplinary research covering the overlap between economics (on the one hand) and social psychology, social neuroscience, sociology and anthropology (on the other). The research will explore the reflexive interaction between macroeconomic activity and social phenomena.

Current research streams

1. Productivity and Labour Market

Social explanations for the British productivity puzzle

  • The rise of uncertainty
  • Motivation in Organisations and Professions
  • The rise of zero-sum activities
2. Accounting for Macroeconomic Failure

This research stream explores new approaches that go well beyond GDP as an indicator of economic performance, by taking into account not merely environmental externalities, but also social externalities through social interactions. The new approaches call for us to distinguish not just between productive and redistributive activities, but also to investigate goals of economic activities that are not merely individualistic, but include prosocial and positionally competitive goals.

The inaugural workshop on 15–16 January 2019 explored what sorts of policies are associated with a rise in status-seeking activities relative to prosocial activities and investigated the implications for social fragmentation.