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The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Economic Studies) (Harvard Economic Studies) Paperback – 1 Jul 1974
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There is now a considerable body of literature which attempts to apply economic analysis to political problems. In my opinion, Olson's is one of the most successful and provocative of these attempts. Olson's central insight is novel and illuminating to political scientists and he shows that by the use of it he can give familiar facts (about labor unions, farm organizations, and other interest groups) new meaning. I believe that his work is going to force the jettisoning of much of what has been said about interest groups and the revision of the rest. It should also have an influence on the many political scientists who work in the field of organization.--Edward C. Banfield, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Urban Government, Harvard University
Olson's book is a significant and valuable contribution to the economist's attempt to come to grips with organizational problems.--Neil W. Chamberlain "American Economic Review "
The existence of a large group with a common interest does not automatically give rise to collective action. There must be an individual incentive to join in or there must be compulsion. This proposition, together with the notion that small groups are qualitatively different from large ones, forms the core of this extremely stimulating book... The range of phenomena it helps to explain and the number of existing ideas it overthrows are very considerable. Having set out his theory of groups and organizations...the author demonstrates its explanatory power by examining the growth of trade unionism, the concept of economic freedom, Marx's class theory, orthodox theories of pressure groups, special interest groups and, lastly, the unorganized groups. Economic analysis is blended with political theory and sociology with great success. The result is an important contribution to social science.--The Economist
This superb little volume is worthy of the attention of all social scientists. It can lead to a healthy and challenging discussion and perhaps to a reappraisal of pressure groups in American society.--Public Opinion Quarterly
From the Back Cover
'This superb little volume is worthy of the attention of all social scientists. it can lead to a healthy and challenging discussion and perhaps to a reappraisal of pressure groups in American society.Public Opinion Quarterly.
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Why people do cooperate? Is a common interest enough to unite people for an efficient action?
Olson explains, amongs many brilliant analysis and relevant examples, that a lot of people don't defend their interest because they know that, anyway, someone will do this work. This is a weakness of those collective actions. Olson then shows how organisations deal with this conservatism.
M.Olson's writings are read by the majority of today's economists and sociologists.
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Olson's theory is applied to labor unions, corporations, and other pressure groups. Olson also has a critique of Marxian class theory which drives one more nail into the coffin of communism. The Logic of Collective Action is important because it explains so much about how real groups have functioned throughout history. Pressure groups date back to the ancient world, and Olson's theory fits very well with this experience.
Olson's ideas need further dissemination because most people get the special interest issue wrong. Most people recognize that pressure groups are often pernicious. But all too many people think that undue special interest influence is just a current phase that can be dealt with in a simple manner. This book indicates that we really should reconsider the role of government in society, especially at the Federal level. Olson is certainly not an anarchist, he insists that there are some things that government can and should do. However, the inevitability of special interest influence does make it impossible for government to function as many would like it too. Read this book along with Gordon Tullock's The Politics of Bureaucracy. Olson and Tullock enable us to make greater sense of world history.
However, it is a great introduction to collective action, as the basic argument has not changed: groups in which the benefits from collective goods cannot be denied to people are very difficult to organize. Organization will more lilkey come about when there is one (or a small number of) individual whose cost of action is lower than his own expected benefits; this leads to an exploitation by the small of the large, which is an interesting and counterintutive situation.
Olson provides a wide array of examples, which are of course old but nonetheless relevant. Examples include farming organizations, trade unions, business pressure groups, medical associations, etc. Overall, I found this book to be very interesting and easy to read, as the economics hardly ever go beyond basic math. For people who like rational arguments, it will be a pleasure to read this. The most interesting portion of the book, in my opinion, is the author's argument why Marxism does not work in practice in the way that Marx predicted.