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The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies) Revised Edition
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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.
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.
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.