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Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.
Olson. 1965. The logic of collective action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Olson lays out his general theory in chapter 1, where he discusses individual rationality, selective incentives, and so on.
Y = common goods provision; X = group size
Large groups have problems providing common goods for three reasons:
There are two kinds of common goods: exclusive and inclusive. With exclusive common goods, the supply is limited. Think of a cartel; each firm wants to increase output (to increase its profits), but if all firms do this, the profits disappear (as the price falls). The supply of profits is limited, so it is an exclusive good. With inclusive goods, however, supply is not limited. Whether more members are welcome depends on whether the good is exclusive or inclusive. Firms prefer to have few competitors because goods are exclusive; unions prefer to maximize membership because its goods are inclusive, and having more members spreads the costs around more.
In chapter 4, Olson applies his theory of collection action to a review of what he calls "orthodox theories." Although he starts by looking elsewhere, the chapter rapidly becomes a review of Marxism. Marx was often criticized for placing too much emphasis on self-interest (in his view, ideology, religion, and everything else were just veiled ways for one class to express its wealth-maximizing interests). The state was the means by which one class could oppress another. What Marx missed, however, was that the rational individuals he envisioned would not have an incentive to participate in the class revolts he predicted. Lenin appears to have understood the problem; in "What is to be Done," Lenin argued that communists would need to be led by a committed, disciplined, self-sacrificing minority.
Olson does point out that in some cases group behavior might be prompted by irrational causes (108). Perhaps later works by Horowitz and Gurr fit into this field.
Research by the same authors
Research on similar subjects
Olson, Mancur (author) • Economics • Collective Action • Institutions • Origins of Institutions • Structure of Interests in Society
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