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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT LOGIC, CLEARLY WRITTEN ARGUMENT
Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action is one of the best arguments I have read on the theory of groups. Given its age (it was originally written in the 1960s), it does not include much of the later scholarship on the subject.
However, it is a great introduction to collective action, as the basic argument has not changed: groups in which the benefits from...
Published on April 8, 2003 by Denis Benchimol Minev

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10 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars All large systems fail
Every system will expand to fill the univerese, corrupting all that it comes in contact with. that is the entire book. a few storys, ect. but that is it. THE WHOLE BOOK.
Published on March 17, 2000 by shunny boy


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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT LOGIC, CLEARLY WRITTEN ARGUMENT, April 8, 2003
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This review is from: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) (Paperback)
Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action is one of the best arguments I have read on the theory of groups. Given its age (it was originally written in the 1960s), it does not include much of the later scholarship on the subject.
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.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Logically indeed, April 6, 2004
This review is from: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) (Paperback)
In this influential work, Mancur Olson is dismissing the 'classical' group theories, as he calls them. Rational individuals will rarely contribute to a common (or collective in the economics-lingo) good, because their contribution will be insignificant and the good will be produced whether the individual provides the good or not. With his stringent logic, the late Olson reminds his readers that groups of all kinds consist of individuals, and that these individuals usually follow there own interest, which not necessarily correspond with the organization's.
The book's explanatory powers are tremendous. Why large groups very rarely if ever are able to organize, and at the same time why some small groups exercise extraordinary amounts of power is Olsons main point of interest. In the very interesting last chapter he describes which features an organization, be it a farmer union, a labor union, a profession lobby or a special interest group, must inhibit to attain members.
The best trait of the book (at least for this reviewing economist) is the persuasive logic with which the arguments are hammered home, and the instructive examples that are used to illustrate the point just made. One little objection should be Olson's (human) tendency to arrogance when he is most pleased with his own conclusions. However: still an excellent read, 40 years after it's first printing.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Explain History, April 18, 2008
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This review is from: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) (Paperback)
Many people discuss the influence of groups, but few really understand why some groups have are more effective than others. Mancur Olson crafted subtle and persuasive arguments explaining why special interest groups are often so effective. People participate in groups according to the expected marginal costs and benefits. Problems with group action emerge when we consider externalities and public goods provision within groups.

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.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Genuine Classic that Urgently Demands New Attention, August 6, 2007
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This review is from: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) (Paperback)
I initially read Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action over 30 years ago, and have found it to be a seminal work of economic scholarship that resonates over the decades. This masterpiece is in urgent need of new attention, especially as America confronts its role in a post September 11 society.

Olson's theory is deceptively simple: goods that are primarily public (everything from a town park to a cruise missile) suffer from a "free rider" problem, in that most of those who would benefit from their provision are not personally motivated to pay for them. Thus, collective action, undertaken through the political sphere, is needed to provide goods and services intended for the collective welfare.

"The Logic of Collective Action" is based on economic theory. Olson's theory recognizes that competitive markets are the best source of private goods, but draws an articulate and compelling case for the intervention of government to provide those goods and services that are beneficial for society, but which cannot be offered effectively through market mechanisms.

A re-reading of this concise and well-written volume is urgently needed in 2007 America. For close to three decades, the downsizing of government has been the dominant theme in U.S. political life. Some of this trimming may well have been appropriate, but events of recent years (September 11, the Katrina hurricane, the possibility of adverse climate change) suggest that collective action is needed to address the most pressing problems of our time.

Olson's gem of a book is a worthwhile place to start our national reconsideration of the logic of collective action.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic in Early Rational Choice, December 7, 2009
This review is from: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) (Paperback)
Olson takes issue with the idea - stemming from group theory - that groups of rational individuals will cooperate in pursuit of common interests because they would all be better off if the objective were achieved. Olson contends that instead, individuals will seek to maximize their own personal utility at the expense of the common interest unless there is (1) a coercive force making them cooperate, or (2) there is an individual incentive, beyond the common good, that provides individual benefits so that they contribute to the costs of achieving the collective good. The logic supporting this claim suggests that although members in a group have a common interest, they also have their personal interests. For example, a group of firms wants to keep prices high, while individual firms seek to maximize profit. In order to maximize profit, the individual firm must increase output. If all firms increase output, prices (the common good) will fall. This illustrates that the individual may act rationally in pursuit of his individual may act rationally in pursuit of his individual interests, but ultimately irrationally in pursuit of the common good.

This leads to a second major point, that is a discussion of the free-rider problem. Essentially, the free-rider occurs when the common good is non-excludable, that is, even those who don't contribute to the procurement of the good are not excluded from enjoying its benefits. It is rational for individual to not contribute. As the function of any group is to provide collective benefits, there must be some kind of coercive mechanism to ensure that everyone contributes. Here it may be helpful to think of state-tax policies. Without coercion, no one would contribute, and the group - here the state - would fail to function.

Only in some small groups are we likely to find the provision of some collective goods without coercion. This occurs for a number of reasons. First, a member or small group of members of the group may benefit so significantly from the provision of the collective good that they will bear the total burden of provision. Additionally, because the group is small, each member gets a larger portion of the good. Because there are fewer people, each gets a larger slice of the pie. Now, as groups get larger, the "slice" gets smaller per member. This leads to suboptimal outcomes, that is, the costs exceed the benefits. This is lessened under circumstances where the actor who contributes the most, receives the largest portion of the collective benefit while the smallest member gets the least. In short, Olson contends that smaller groups are better able to provide collective benefits while larger groups, are less able.

When discussing collective benefits and group membership, it is imperative to discuss the size and types of groups under investigation. First, Olson discusses exclusive versus inclusive groups. In the case of exclusive groups, there is a limited amount of collective good, and as such, members of the exclusive group want to maintain a minimum number of members so that each can attain a large portion of the collective good, we could think here of a small, oligopolistic groups. Exclusive groups are usually found in market situations. In non-market situations the collective good is not constrained by fixed supply. In these cases the more members to share the benefits and costs the better. So, the inclusive or exclusive nature of the organization largely depends on the issue at hand, that is the objective the group wishes to attain.

The degree of coordination also differs between inclusive and exclusive groups. In an inclusive group the organization will want as many individuals to participate as possible, but it is not necessary for every individual to participate. Because of the nature of the good, if one person "free-rides" it won't pose loses on those who do not cooperate. This is not the case for exclusive groups. Exclusive groups want smaller groups so each receives greater gains, but it is necessary for all these members to participate, otherwise, one person may defect and recap all the collective benefits of those who cooperated lose out. As such, exclusive groups are characterized by much greater degree of bargaining between actors. If individuals want to maintain the collective benefit and not suffer huge loses, than they must consciously observe the actions of others in the group.

In addition to the inclusive and exclusive nature of groups, the size of the group matters as well. Essentially, Olson divides groups into three categories: small, intermediate, and large. Olson contends that the size of the group helps to determine if collective benefits will emerge or collective-action problems will emerge.
In the smallest groups - where one individual may find it in their interest to pay the entire cost of the collective good - the necessity of cooperation and coordination is minimal. In groups at the oligopolistic level - where multiple actors must interact in order for a collective good to be achieved - there must be some form of tacit coordination or organization. In larger groups - where many people must be organized for a collective benefit to bet achieved, and there is significant option to defect - a large deal of organization and agreement are necessary in order to organize a large enough subset of the group to achieve the collective benefit. One of the major blocks of successful mobilization stems from instances where although the collective benefits to the groups as a whole are significant, there is little personal incentive to the individual to participate. Here it becomes necessary for the organization to provide selective incentives, that is, an "incentive that operates, not indiscriminately, like the collective good, upon the group as a whole, but rather selectively toward the individuals in the group" (51). These can either be positive or negative.

Olson writes, "size is one of the determining factors in deciding whether or not it is possible that the voluntary, rational pursuit of individual interest will bring forth group-oriented behavior. Small groups will further their common interests better than larger groups" (52). The main argument, then, that large or latent groups will not coordinate their action because the actions of the group will benefit the group a whole. Individuals acting rationally at the individual level may act irrationally in relation to groups.

Mancur Olson also applies his approach to collective action to analyze t theories of class (Marx) and theories of the state. Marx viewed classes and individuals as motivated to achieve their self-interest. Olson's idea of "group" can be applied to Marx's idea of class. That is, there are instances where an individual may act rationally as an individual, but irrationally in regards to group interests. As such, Olson explains the failure of class action to occur as stemming from "the individuals that make up a class [acting individually] rationally" (105). That is, individuals will forego the potential costs of class interest and instead concentrate on their own interest. They would much rather reap the benefits of collective action if the costs or sacrifices are shouldered by others. In other words, the class action that Marx envisioned did not occur because "there [were] no individual economic incentives for class action" (108).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why organize?, February 11, 2012
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This review is from: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) (Paperback)
This book is deceptively simple. It asks a basic question about political organization, but defies conventional explanations. In particular, Olson shows that it is difficult to get collective action even when all the members of an organization agree as to the goal. Members might not contribute to the goal if their own reward from the organization's activities is relatively small, so the organization can fail to provide a collective good even if it would be in everybody's best interests. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it's worth rereading this book just to understand the power of the logic.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE crucial book on political economy, August 11, 2000
By 
J. Michael Showalter (Nashville, TN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) (Paperback)
I once read that Olson was on the short list of people being considered for the Nobel Prize at the time of his death. Certainly, this list is not so short: at least three of my college professors were rumored to be.... Enough of that, though....
This work takes a simple premise and expands on it to explain processes that at the outset seem contradictory. Organisations exist, in economic logic, to seek either economic rent or ideological satisfaction. Olson in this book works through organisational logic and explains group behavior in a clear, concise fashion. This behavior influences economic performance and politics at all levels.
Moreso than other books which in part relate to the same areas (including Olson's the Rise and Decline of Nations and a few by Douglass North) this is THE key text for this issue, and a must read for anyone who is into political economy.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat dated, but still worth reading, October 9, 2004
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This book does a good job of describing the effects of financial incentives on the ability of large and small groups to organize to promote their interests. But it doesn't try to analyze the effects of non-financial incentives such as the desire for a reputation for altruism.

One of the most striking features of this book is the worldview that it criticizes. Apparently when the book was written, it was respectable to believe that special interest group politics improved democracy. This book seems to have been one of the original reasons for the shift of opinions away from that view. But from today's perspective, Olson seems a bit naive in his optimism that large governments and labor unions will serve the public interest in spite of the problems that the book describes of small interest groups with concentrated interests being more effective at lobbying than large groups with diluted interests.

His clear reasoning on his main points is still not as widely understood as it should be. But the other two books of his that I've read are better (The Rise and Decline of Nations, and Power and Prosperity).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid text, October 18, 2013
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I was trying to figure out a framework for an organization with a volunteer component. Did help me to those ends. For the non-academic like me you'll have to pause alot and reflect every few pages to digest.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful look at political stability and the economy, June 18, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) (Paperback)
Olson uses economic rationality to explain the creation of stable social/political organizations. He offers a facinating glimpse at the full relationship between politics and economics through the lens of the self-interested, roving bandit.
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