30 Mei 2010

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Human cooperation and `gotong royong'

It is a well recognized fact that economic systems in developing economies must be designed as a combination of the market and the state in order to develop. But, at the same time, great importance should be attached to the function of community factors that highly influence the economic performance and stability of rural life.
Physical and human capital traditionally have been regarded as essential sources for economic growth. However, many developmentalists for some two-three decades have been advocating the other as being growth sources, which comprise social capital including individual talent, accumulated knowledge of society, and society's forms of interaction, organization and culture.

There is a growing understanding that social capital is one of the determinant factors in the economic development. Social factors are crucial in determining economical growth outcomes.
In the broader sense, social capital refers to the institutions, relationships and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions. Social capital, however, is not simply the sum of the institutions, which underpin a society. It is also the glue that holds them together.
The functioning of social capital linking to its capability in performing the role through sharing of information among group members, reduction of opportunistic behavior, and facilitation of collective decision-making.
"Mutual cooperation" is one key valuable word in understanding social capital works in the community. Historically, cooperation behavior among human beings has been culturally seen as a necessity. It might not be quite realistic to assume that individuals are always looking out for themselves and that they do so by weighing the costs and benefits of their behavior.
Clearly, Andreas Diekmann (2002) states that cooperation behavior has strong connections with social preference that embodies social orientation.
In addition, Boris Palameta (1998) argued that human economic decision-making is rarely based on simple payoff maximization.
Strategies based on reputation building, trust, scorekeeping and punishment can flourish under conditions where the short-term costs of cooperation are outweighed by its long-term benefits.
It is nonetheless widely agreed that human cooperation does not always work well. North (1990) apprehends human cooperation as a game. Cooperation is difficult to sustain when the game is not repeated, when information on the other players is lacking, and when there are large number of players.
Intellectual battles between standard economic theory and sociological explanatory models have been common in understanding how human's behave in relation to the cooperation process.
Economic rationality emphasizes that people will behave rationally in all situations and transactions in gaining self-interest and for individual gain. Later, it is referred as homo economicus.
In contrast, sociological explanatory models have stressed the social nature of human activity, thus putting the emphasis on the normative basis of behavior. People may act against their own economic interest, and so-called homo sociologicus dominates.
In the later stage, the assumption growing about actions based on these pure concepts is that it is unrealistic. If facts, man is neither homo economicus nor homo sociologicus alone, but instead homo socio-economicus, who is directed by both their own interests and collective norms. Kangas (1990) refined that the pursuing of self-interest and moral motivations are forever at odds in the soul of homo socioeconomicus.
An experimental work by Kircher et.al, (1996) strengthened that the norms of reciprocity are proved to be stronger than rational egoistic money maximization. The motive of reciprocal behavior partially offsets motives of pure money maximization if interaction partners do not change over time.
Far before emerging a standard understanding on human cooperation, which was constructed into social capital, villagers in Indonesia and in Java particularly were practicing a prominent traditional norm of human interaction and mutual cooperation, which has been termed gotong royong.
Although social-economic differentiations among members have caused remarkable changes in the rural community of Java, however, they still maintain strong mutual relationships among community members.
Study by Subejo (2008) confirms that in general, Javanese peasant households still attach great importance to good relations with neighbors and relatives in their community. These relations are expressed in various types of mutual aids. In practice, gotong royong has been used interchangeably with mutual help groups, institutionalized stabilizers and labor institutions.
These mutual aids cover a wide range of activities in the village community, such as community work for maintaining rural infrastructure such as rural roads or irrigation facilities; emergency work to cope with natural disasters; mutual help for house construction or for daily agricultural operations; labor or financial support for important ceremonies (slametan).
It is important to consider that traditional types of cooperative relationships have developed naturally over long periods of time.
Some of these relationships have been practiced daily and enable economic and social survival by sharing the burden and cooperatively carrying the load.
Many local institutions have been created under the spirit of gotong royong. Grootaert (1999) noted that a long tradition of community-based groups in Indonesia had existed and later were more formally organized.
The key feature of the government-sponsored groups is that they formally organized and have mandatory membership.
However, both community-based and government-sponsored associations are found across the functional spectrum of associations (social service groups, production and occupational groups, finance and credit groups amogn others).
Gotong royong activities can also function as collective action group that essentially improves access to services and improves welfare outcomes of households. Those may stem from the overall relationships with others in the community that are being established in local associations, and which may well be more important than the specific function of the associations.
The members with similar social or economic characteristics may well find it easier to interact and establish trust, thus making association more effective.
Effectiveness of social capital's work highly depends on the level of trust among community members who directly take part in the social capital formation.
The writer is an academic staff member at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, and a Japanese government scholarship grantee.
opini jakarta post 31 mei 2010