The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities
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The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  129 ratings  ·  18 reviews
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.
Paperback, 276 pages
Published September 10th 1984 by Yale University Press (first published 1982)
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Aaron Arnold
It's pretty rare that you find a book, particularly in a well-trodden field like economics, that manages to feel both original and important. Its main thesis is simplicity itself - that societies over time accumulate interest groups like ships' hulls accumulate barnacles, and over time these groups become more interested in rerouting the benefits of progress to themselves than investing in the future. Think labor unions, manufacturer's groups, advocacy organizations, even charities. He builds on...more
Athan Tolis
A genuine classic.

Mancur Olson starts with a three chapter summary of his “Logic of Collective Action,” where he explained how stability breeds special interest groups (e.g. cartels, guilds, unions, oligopolies etc.) and how those groups acquire influence in an economy. Some of the most basic observations are

1. Bargaining power will never be perfectly symmetric, i.e. there will be winners and losers;

2. The longer the period of stability, the more these special interests will flourish;

3. Smal...more
Jan Notzon
In The Rise and Decline of Nations, Mancur Olson posits a quite credible theory of why nations grow, stagnate or decline. As I understand it, as nations age they acquire more and more what Olson calls "distributional organizations," (unions, trade unions, manufacturing associations, professional associations, etc.) which tend to make the commercial process sclerotic. (Although he admits that there are multiple other forces at work.)
He supports the theory very well, showing how it explains the r...more
I had to read this book for school and it was one of my least-favorite books I have read in a long time. The first chapters of the book that set up his argument were okay, but the chapters on why his argument was right (and especially the last chapter on macroeconomic theory) did not interest me much. I also did not really like the author's writing style of "talking" to the reader and inserting himself in the first person. He did not do this often, but I thought it was unnecessary when he did it...more
Steven Peterson
Mancur Olson was a first class thinker and an economist held in high esteem. His "The Logic of Collective Action" is rightly regarded as a classic (not hype in this case). This book is another fascinating product from Olson's mind. It is not a classic at the level of the book just mentioned, but this volume did have an effect on thinking and research.

The thesis is relatively straightforward. The longer any society experiences political stability and economic success, one natural consequence is t...more
Yifan Xu
This book is more than an exegesis of economic concerns in the 1980s. It deals with a philosophical question of the nature of Western economies: when the market is perfectly free where everyone in the economy acts in accordance with his or her best interests, why do depression and unemployment still occur?

In this book, the culprits are the wide-spread special interest groups opposing the mainstream economic policies and seeking their own collective economic sanctuaries. By answering the questi...more
The author makes a number of interesting insights that explain much about how the country reached the current malaise, including how special interest organizations emerge over time and how their efforts frustrate economic growth, make law and regulation more complex, and make political life more divisive from their efforts to redistribute income. He asserts that over time such groups influence leads societies to become ungovernable.

The author rigorously supports the insignts he makes throughout...more
starts with a couple questions:

-why do some countries do well, when others don't?
-why do some countries grow fast at some times, then slow at others?
-do groups really act in their self-interest?

and explains them by expanding on his ideas from "The Theory of Collective Action".

a good summary of all of the book's logic here:

even if you don't agree with how he matches his theory to actual history--and Olson himself apparently shifted his perspective on it in...more
This book offers a clear vision of why EVERYTHING happens. Additionally, it correctly foresees things that on the surface would have seemed absurd at the time, such as auto manufacturing moving to the Southeast US & the financial collapse of California. A great book.
Chris Wigert
Important 1982 book that explains how nations are eventually swallowed by their own growing governments and by the special interests who together gradually take control of the economy.
Olson's explanation of the rise and decline of nations is spot on. Furthermore, it applies to all groups, from the smallest social group to the largest corporation.
Great, often overlooked book using relatively basic incentive-based arguments to explain the rise and decline of nations.
May 06, 2010 !Tæmbuŝu marked it as to-read
Reviewed by The Slate
Build on the logic of collective action, applied to history and forecasting
Jacques Mebius
This is about growing the pie versus getting a bigger piece of the pie
Good book but a little too academic for my tastes.
Dec 19, 2012 Chris marked it as to-read
Dry but still fascinating
Josh Tatum
Jan 27, 2011 Josh Tatum marked it as to-read
Shelves: history, politics
Mitch Daniels "Five Books"
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American economist and social scientist who, at the time of his death, worked at the University of Maryland, College Park. Among other areas, he made contributions to institutional economics on the role of private property, taxation, public goods, collective action and contract rights in economic development. Olson focused on the logical basis of interest group membership and participation. The re...more
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