Mancur Lloyd Olson (1932–1998)

  • Melvin J. Hinich
  • Michael C. Munger

Mancur Olson had the rare ability to explain clearly the subtle nature of how groups of human beings organize to educated readers who are not versed in economic theory and its arcane vocabulary. His first book The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, first published by the Harvard University Press in 1965, presented the fundamental issues of group formation by self-interested individuals in a way that made sense to most readers. He made a serious and successful effort to connect his theory with the scholarly writings on groups by sociologists and other non-economists. This book influenced the thinking of many academics and non-academics.

The technical term for the principal inherent problem of group formation is called the ‘‘free rider problem’’. If all members of the group receive a benefit from the action of the group and are not forced to contribute to the cost of group action, a self-interested group member has no incentive to contribute. As an example of this ‘‘problem’’ consider the case of the classical music station KMFA in Austin, TX. This station plays classical music of all sorts 24 hours a day. The station does not receive any public funds. The existence of this station depends on voluntary contributions from people who value the existence of the station. The number of people in the Austin area who contribute is a fraction of the people who listen to the station. The bi-annual fund-raising drives attempt to shame those listeners who do not contribute to pledge monetary support.


Public Good Collective Action Public Choice American Political Science Review Classical Music 
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  1. McLean, I. (1998). ‘‘Mancur, scourge of special interests, Died on February 19, aged 66.’’ Economist, March 7.Google Scholar
  2. Olson, M. (1965). The Logic of Collective Action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Olson, M. (1982). The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Olson, M. (1993). ‘‘Dictatorship, democracy, and development.’’ American Political Science Review, 87(3), 567-576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Olson, M. (2000). Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melvin J. Hinich
    • 1
  • Michael C. Munger
    • 2
  1. 1.Applied Research LaboratoriesThe University of Texas at AustinAustin
  2. 2.Duke UniversityDurham

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