The Political Economy of Swarming in Honeybees: Voting-with-the-Wings, Decision-Making Costs, and the Unanimity Rule

  • Janet T. Landa

Sociobiology has attracted a great deal of attention in the last decade or so. However, according to biologist Michael Ghiselin, the sociobiological approach has its limitations as it tries to explain all behavior including altruism, in terms of genetics. As Ghiselin puts it: ‘Genes, of course, occur in all organisms, but it is the economic forces that really explain what organisms do.’2 A ‘bioeconomic’ approach, incorporating cost- benefit calculations would better explain biological forms of organization.3 The bioeconomic approach has been used by Becker (1981), Ghiselin (1978), Hirshleifer (1978, 1982), Tullock (1978), and Wilson (1978) in their work, and will also be used in this paper. The paper will explain the various aspects of the political economy of swarming in honeybees, focusing especially on the bees’ collective choice of a new permanent nest site by the unanimous voting rule. The economic analysis draws on the work of Arrow (1974) on organizations, Buchanan and Tullock (1962) on the choice of Pareto-optimal voting rule and Schelling (1978) on critical mass phenomena. The paper will describe aspects of the political economy of honeybee swarming in Section 1. Section 2 uses economic analysis to explain various aspects of swarming in honeybees. Section 3 provides a conclusion and suggests an extension of the line of research in this paper.


Political Economy Public Choice Nest Site Vote Rule External Cost 
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  • Janet T. Landa

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