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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced, Insightful, and relevant
Power and Prosperity is an example of economics at its best. First of all, it takes a balanced or neutral approach to its subject matter. The author is not out to prove the superiority of either markets or government. Governmental power is a double edged sword to Olson. Government power promotes prosperity by restraining 'roving bandits' or special interests. Government...
Published on December 8, 2004 by D. W. MacKenzie

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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only for economists but not enough
Olson's book is good but only understandable for those with an economics background. If you are not an economist you are going to have trouble understanding what he is trying to say and the concepts he uses across the pages.

For those who have an econ background it is a good book and it provides interesting examples on how economic theory applies to real life,...
Published on August 21, 2005 by Erick Ramos Murillo


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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced, Insightful, and relevant, December 8, 2004
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This review is from: Power And Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist And Capitalist Dictatorships (Paperback)
Power and Prosperity is an example of economics at its best. First of all, it takes a balanced or neutral approach to its subject matter. The author is not out to prove the superiority of either markets or government. Governmental power is a double edged sword to Olson. Government power promotes prosperity by restraining 'roving bandits' or special interests. Government power is also susceptible to the influence of special interests. Olson also discusses the merits and faults of markets. Markets are ubiquitous and can lead to prosperity, but often do not. Government has a role in this. That is, he finds blame for this in the most negative aspects of government. Olson does not assume market efficiency either. He explains it, as well as some possible limitations to markets.

This is also a highly insightful book. Much of his analysis derives from his earlier work on "the logic of collective action'. He also uses some transaction costs and basic supply and demand/substitution effect reasoning to explain historical events. Students in my comparative classes had more trouble with this book than any other, but it is still manageable. Reading it might be difficult for those who lack an education in economics. But I am not sure if there is an easier way to say what it says, and what it says is most interesting. The concepts the author employs makes a greater understanding of different economic systems and historical periods possible. This is penetrating analysis.

It is also highly relevant. Much of this book focuses on the Soviet Union. One could say that the USSR is a done deal- it failed so forget about it. It is, however, important to understand why it failed so as to avoid repeating such errors in the future. This is what the Author is driving at with in his use of the Soviet example. There were reasons for the failure of the Soviet system that also apply to problems in other nations- not to mention Russia today. The misuse of power has the potential to prevent prosperity as much now as it did under Stalin and Khrushchev.

Does this book have faults? Certainly. Olson takes too positive a view of Stalin's industrialization program (not that he praises Stalin). Olson dismisses complete privatization, or anarchy, too easily. There is nothing wrong with arguing against anarchy. But, his arguments against privatizing the state (i.e private police and courts) are little more than an unsupported dismissal of such arrangements. If he did not want to debate that issue, he should not have taken such a strong stand. He also might have mentioned a few things about FA Hayek- especially on p136 where he wrote "a bureaucracy cannot process all the information needed to calculate an optimal allocation or put it into practice".

While there are a few faults to this book, it is still excellent. It is a must read for anyone interested in either comparative economics and politics, Globalization, or the economic history of the Soviet Union.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and clear reasoning, April 14, 2000
As a young student I found Olson's 'Rise and Decline of Nations' a very interesting and well-written book. Recently, as an eonomist on international economic relations 15 years further down the road I picked up this book and again was caught by the clear writing and the compelling reasoning. I recently taught a graduate course on East European economic conversion and I would have put this book on the reading list if I had read it earlier. I think the text is sometimes a bit too pat and I would have liked to see more empirical evidence. On the other hand, Olson does make a good case for his theory and I like the hopeful message it conveys. His emphasis on the importance of institution building in economic and social development I think is correct. This is certainly one of the more interesting books I have read on the subject. Recommended!
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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Book, February 17, 2000
By A Customer
I read about this book in the Wall Street Journal and then snapped up a copy. Olson writes so clearly and accessibly that you almost don't realize you're reading a book about economics. Highly recommended for people interested in the future of the world economy and world politics.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Real Advantage of Capitalism and Democracy, April 22, 2001
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This review is from: Power And Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist And Capitalist Dictatorships (Paperback)
Why are all the rich countries in the world capitalist democracies? Isn't a dictator the best way to turn around a country in economic trouble? Why did Germany and Japan grow so fast after the end of World War II? Why have Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries done so poorly after the end of the Cold War? And what should the rich, successful, First-World countries do to enjoy continuing prosperity?
Olson's only book written for the general public, "Power and Prosperity" addresses all these questions and more, in well-written prose, fairly free of economic jargon, and filled with easy-to-follow examples. Not too long, at less than 200 pages excluding the notes, any educated layman should have no trouble getting through the whole thing.
The book primarily focuses on how governments use and abuse power and the impact that has on economics. In particular, Olson hypothesizes a "second invisible hand" as a partner to Adam Smith's famous invisible hand of the marketplace. Olson's invisible hand represents the unintentional good that even the most selfish regimes accidentally do for the public in the process of maximizing the good of the rulers. (E.g. the King fights bandits because they reduce the take from his taxes, but he only does this up to his own point of diminishing returns.) Apparently original with Olson, this idea earned him a prominent place in academia, and it's impressive to see how far he can take it.
So if you have any interest in politics and economics, by all means read this book. Even if you don't agree with it all, the ideas in it are priceless. Skip Charles Cadwell's foreword though; it's dry and dull and doesn't add much to the book.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book.... but...., August 11, 2000
By 
J. Michael Showalter (Nashville, TN United States) - See all my reviews
Essentially, this is Mancur Olson's most accessible work. It is fairly current and doesn't seem to fall off into political economy esoteria. It explains problems such that anyone can understand them. BUT Olson breaks no new ground here. It is a shame that he died before the book was published-- I am fairly certain that it might have benefitted from some additional shepherding....
If you have read The Rise and Decline of States and The Logic of Collective Action, save your money on this book. If you have not, nor plan to, and want a good synopsis of Olson's message (and a fairly good read too.... for a professor!) check this book out....
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete But Insightful, June 18, 2000
By A Customer
Mancur Olson takes the same approach that has worked well for economists in other areas: Assume that governments are run by self-interested, profit-maximizing "autocrats." This means that the country will score broad gains if the "autocrat" is a broad democratic majority, but even a dictatorial bandit will have some advantages if the bandit has long-term stability and is therefore interested in maximizing his profits over a long rather than a short term. Olson applies this formulation with success to the Soviet Union, showing why there was considerable growth in the days of Stalin but an inevitable sclerosis set in in the later years. He argues in his final chapter that the key to a successful transition from dictatorship to democracy is the assurance of individual property and contract rights, and that in the absence of such assurance the transition is certain to be problematic.
Olson died before he believed the book ready for publication, and the final effort shows it. Although the prose is polished and extremely readable, the argument tends to be quite skimpy. For example, he argues that the reason for widespread corruption is governmental price-fixing, which he applies to the Soviet experience. I would have liked more detail here, and in particular an analysis of the American experiences with prohibition and the ban on recreational drugs. Also, Olson's theory does not fully explain why third-world democracies have not been more successful. After all, you would think that at some point the "autocrats" would secure the individual rights necessary to maximize their "profits." It will necessarily fall to others to expand Olson's arguments and to determine if this plausible-sounding approach is correct. Meanwhile, we have this fascinating outline.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent description of what went wrong in the Soviet Union, June 25, 2004
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Parts of this book are a bit slow and more theoretical than I want, but the chapter on the Soviet Union is one of the best economic essays I've ever read.
It convincingly discredits the idea that a misguided ideology led Soviet planners astray, by describing how the policies appear shrewdly designed to maximize Stalin's wealth.
It also provides a compelling explanation of the more recent Soviet and post-Soviet economic problems by documenting the extent to which special interests have made their industry unproductive by adopting work rules/habits designed maximize job security.
I wish I could believe these problems were unique to countries afflicted with communism, but the book's reasoning suggests that many parts of our economy where bureaucracies aren't shut down if they fail to produce valuable results (much of government, businesses in industries with little competition, and I don't know what fraction of nonprofits) are equally wasteful.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, direct and yet subtle. Quite excellent., December 26, 2005
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This review is from: Power And Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist And Capitalist Dictatorships (Paperback)
In the "Rise and Decline of Nations" Mancur Olson revealed the teacher in himself with a lucid readable account that left the mathematics in the footnotes. It was one of those books that Samuel Britten would give to his bright nephew who wants to know what it is all about without doing the difficult math (with the exception of some graphs in a later chapter, not difficult to interpret, but which the reader can skim over if they are so inclined, for the argument is clearly stated in the text). The "Rise and Decline of Nations", Mancur Olson's prior book for the greater public, is a hard act to follow, but that he does with this sequel, "Power and Prosperity." And how.

"Power and Prosperity" brings the compelling reasoning of Olson's theories of collective action forward with a lucidity and ease unmatched by any other book I have encountered. And yet he still breaks new ground; the prompting was Olson's observations of the former Soviet Russian Federation's failure to rise above anarchy and to harness the power for free markets for the good of her people. In this book Olson answers the question: Why has Russia failed where the West has succeeded?

Olson's use of language is quite outstanding. He uses no big words where simple words will do. He defines the terms of his essay as he goes. He refers the reader to academic publications for those interested in formal proofs. He does not repeat himself except to remind the reader of the main line of argument, which keeps the whole tight and disciplined, yet easy to read.

This book is very strongly recommended for anyone seeking the synthesis of the big picture and a disciplined logical analysis. self with a lucid readable account that left the mathematics in the footnotes. It was one of those books that Samuel Britten would give to his bright nephew who wants to know what it is all about without doing the difficult bits. The "Rise and Decline of Nations" is a hard act to follow, but that Mancur Olson does with "Power and Prosperity." And how.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Needed, August 29, 2006
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This review is from: Power And Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist And Capitalist Dictatorships (Paperback)
This book covers aspects of Economics that are only too often neglected. These aspects include how power arrangements affect market efficiency and the effectiveness of markets in meeting consumer demand and providing for propserity. The book also provides accounts of different types of market arangements. In one type of market there is no guarantee other than the honor of the buyer and seller concerning the quality of the product and the terms of payment. Thus the market tends toward basic short term transactions. In the market for which property rights are guaranteed by the social structure, however, market arrangements can be much more complex and much better serve the needs of the people in society.

Power arrangements should be studied in Economics.

And this book should be read by all persons interested in Economics.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the effort, September 18, 2001
By 
Jonathan Brown (Fair Oaks,, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Power And Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist And Capitalist Dictatorships (Paperback)
This was Olson's final book. He was a profound thinker - from the Logic of Collective Action (which argued that people join groups to get more than they give) to The Rise and Decline of Nations (which argued that democratic systems gum up as interests need to negotiate the margins) to this book which looks at how power works.
Like The Rise and Decline it is not an easy read. But his speculations are well worth the effort in thinking both how people operate within an organizational context and how nations operate.
To get the full impact of his work you should probably read all three - but this is clearly I think his best.
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Power And Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist And Capitalist Dictatorships
Power And Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist And Capitalist Dictatorships by Mancur Olson (Paperback - November 20, 2000)
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