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The Implications of the Logic of Collective Inaction for Administrative Theory

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Ostrom, Elinor
Date: 1987
Agency: Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Bloomington, IN
Series: Workshop Working Paper, W87-3
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/4269
Sector: Theory
Region:
Subject(s): Workshop
collective action
Olson, Mancur
public administration
Abstract: "The publication in 1965 of Mancur Olson's book The Logic of Collective Action fundamentally changed the view of many scholars and public officials about the likelihood that individuals will solve collective action problems without the intervention of central administrative authorities. Olson built his analysis on two broad presumptions that are fundamentally sound. The first presumption is that attributes of the set of individuals facing a common problem affect their capabilities to solve problems themselves. Olson identified the size of the group as the most important group attribute affecting collective action. The second presumption was that attributes of the phenomena involved in a problem -- exclusion and jointness -- would also affect the capabilities of a set of individuals to solve a common problem. In regard to both of these foundational building blocks, Olson made particular choices in the way he defined and used concepts which have generated considerable confusion. Since the concepts of group size and the nature of goods are important elements of future work, it is important to examine how Olson used these terms, what problems he ran into, and how we can reformulate these concepts for future theoretical and empirical work. "This paper contains an analysis of the concepts of size of group and public goods as contained in Olson's theory. Where Olson used one term to refer to several concepts, separate terms will be defined for each of the concepts he uses. Where Olson incorrectly argued that he had established a general, rather than a limited, proposition, the conditions affecting whether a particular proposition stands or not will be discussed. The implications of this reformulated foundation for the practice and theory of administration is discussed in the last section."

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