- Paperback: 276 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (September 10, 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300030797
- ISBN-13: 978-0300030792
- Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities New edition Edition
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From the Back Cover
The years since World War II have seen rapid shifts in the relative positions of different countries and regions. Leading political economist Mancur Olson offers a new and compelling theory to explain these shifts in fortune and then tests his theory against evidence from many periods of history and many parts on the world.
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Top Customer Reviews
The only weakness in Olsons work is references to "growth" without reference to population increase or decrease, one of three factors (population, productivity, inflation) of growth that must be considered. But that was not an obvious issue 25 years ago when Olson wrote, and does not subtract from the brilliance of his theory. I highly reccommend this book.
Olson's explanation builds upon his early work in The Logic of Collective Action, which holds that "...large groups, at least if they are composed of rational individuals, will not act in their group interest" (18). Rather, the rational actor will seek to further his or her self-interest, and will subsequently free-ride when possible. Olson expands the scope of this logic to encompass not only the rationality of the individual, but the rationality of the firm in explaining The Rise and Decline of Nations.
As the power of the firm expands, the firm seeks to maximize its own utility at the expense of a societal common good. In order to simplify a complex argument, we can think of Olson's theory in this way. An organization or firm will not expend its energy to create a benefit to society writ large, as it, and its members, will only receive a fragment of that benefit in relation to the costs incurred. On the other hand, if the same firm seeks to maximize its utility, it will seek to obtain a larger slice of the social "pie." In so doing, it may lower the benefits of society as a whole, but will significantly expand its own gain and that of its members. Meanwhile the firm will only incur a fraction of the costs such action projects on society at large. As such, Olson writes, "The great majority of special-interest organizations redistribute income rather than create it and in the ways that reduce social efficiency and output" (47).
Olson argues that a society with long-term stability - free from war, and economic and political turmoil - tend to accrue more special-interest and collusion groups. This occurs because it takes time and reasonable amount of stability for such interest-groups to organize, solidify, and begin to achieve some collective benefits for their members. Once collective benefits are seen as the result of organization, a host of other interests will begin to coalesce and seek to obtain gains for themselves. What emerges is a highly pluralistic society.
This leads us to the second part of Olson's hypothesis, those nations with high numbers of special-interest or collusion groups have lower levels of economic growth. Olson writes, "Distributional coalitions slow down a society's capacity to adopt new technologies and reallocate resources in response to changing conditions, and they reduce the rate of economic growth" (65). First, distributional coalitions stymie technological adoption when such innovation stands to benefit a rival group. A present day illustration can be found in a labor unions vehement opposition to the implementation of labor saving machinery. Second, distributional coalitions will attempt to block policy initiatives that change the status quo. When policy needs to be developed to increase economic or social advancement, the special-interest groups are likely to feel a certain displacement and will act to prevent such policy. According to Olson, these actions, coupled with others, often lead to policies which promote policies which have the potential to stifle economic growth.