collective Action

  • Mancur Olson
Reference work entry


For a long while, economists, like specialists in other fields, often took it for granted that groups of individuals with common interests tended to act to further those common interests, much as individuals might be expected to further their own interests. If a group of rational and self-interested individuals realized that they would gain from political action of a particular kind, they could be expected to engage in such action; if a group of workers would gain from collective bargaining, they could be expected to organize a trade union; if a group of firms in an industry would profit by colluding to achieve a monopoly price, they would tend to do so; if the middle class or any other class in a country had the power to dominate, that class would strive to control the government and run the country in its own interest. The idea that there was some tendency for groups to act in their common interests was often merely taken for granted, but in some cases it played a central conceptual role, as in some early American theories of labour unions, in the ‘group theory’ of the ‘pluralists’ in political science, in J.K. Galbraith’s concept of ‘countervailing power’, and in the Marxian theory of class conflict.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2008

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  • Mancur Olson

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