Mancur Olson, wrote The Logic of Collective Action Public Goods and The Theory of Groups, throughout the book Olson discusses such topics rationality, group size and group behaviour, public goods, free rider, collective action problem, and selective incentives. Olsons world-renowned book is full of useful knowledge and opinion concerning world politics. After reading this valuable text I feel both enlightened and baffled concurrently. Olsons beliefs in the political system seem to be without the human factor. His theories appear to leave out the complexity of the human psyche. Olson fails to analyze the fact that people may join a political group for such things as social stature, socialization, or just for something to do. In conjuncture with Olsons theories, people join or start groups for specific reasons.
Olson states that one purpose for groups and organizations is simply the furtherance of the interests of their members (Olson 5).Groups are usually formed to further an issue or goal, so thus if a group works toward a common interest and is successful in making advancements towards that interest, in theory the members should be pleased. This brings us to the term public or collective goods. A collective good can be construed as a good held by no single person and shared by a group. Olson says,. . . the achievement of any common goal or the satisfaction of any common interest means that a public or collective good has been provided for that group (Olson 15). For example, if the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) lobby for a bill that protects the killing of minks for fur, then that bill has become a collective good for PETA. Collective goods are in essence the achievements made by a group.
Olson discusses in his book the theory of pluralism. In Chapter five he defines pluralism as the political philosophy which argues that private associations of all kinds, and especially labour unions, churches, and cooperatives, should not have an unlimited control over the plurality of these private associations (Olson 111).Pluralism in a sense is the middle ground; it doesnt coincide with the nation state theory and it stays clear of the laissezfaire anarchistic extremes. Pluralism provides a cushion between the individual and the state (Olson 112). Pluralism is the perfect mix of active and passive citizenry, and power is bartered and shared between many different groups. On the other end of the spectrum is the theory of NeoPluralism, which consists of multiple pressure groups, but political agenda biased towards corporate power. Although pluralism seems more beneficial Neopluralism has its benefits such as economic prosperity, and the ability for leaders to meet the demands of the people. However, it destroys the realm of individual initiative and free enterprise. So in concurrence with Olson pluralism seems more beneficial to society.
The traditional theory of group behaviour that implicitly assumes that private groups and associations operate according to principles entirely different from those that governs the relationships among firms in the marketplace or between taxpayers and the state (Olson 16). Many different writers including Olson helped to invent this traditional theory that describes group behaviour and relates it to the marketplace. According to Olson the effectiveness of the size of a group directly correlates with the level of society. For instance if the society is modern, than the larger the group, the more effective it will be in obtaining collective goods. In a primitive society a small group would be more effective in obtaining these goods. Today in a modern society a larger group is more likely to accomplish goals that benefit the group.
Rationality appears to deal with the motives that drive a member of a latent or large group. A rational group member cannot put the interests of the group ahead of their own. If the interests of the group are put ahead of the members own interests, than the collective good cannot be shared by that member. Without rationality in a group its level of success would be very low. Olson shows how rationality is defined in the following quote, even if the member of a large group were to neglect his own interests entirely, he still would not rationally contribute toward the provision of any collective or public good, since his own contribution would not be perceptible (Olson 64).
A Free Rider reaps the benefit of an interest group without participation or contribution to the group. For example most people reap the benefit of environmentalist groups because they do not contribute to the prosperity of that group, however, they reap the benefits of clean air, saved trees, or preserved wildlife. In order to be classified as a free rider that person must not contribute at all to the group while still benefiting that groups collective goods.
Mancur Olson, wrote this book in 1965 and its knowledge and opinion still proves useful almost 40 years later. Olsons theories are based on political systems throughout the world but have a focus on U.S. politics. Although through his theories, Olson, neglects to mention the influence of human motivation, and the complexity of the human psyche. Olsons theories can only be correct to a point because people in general are not as easy to predict. For the most part though Olson has pointed out themes and rationales from U.S. politics, and put them into structured theories. Mancur Olsons book The Logic of Collective Action Public Goods and The Theory of Groups will be read and studied for years to come.