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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  247 Ratings  ·  21 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 of the world.
“[T]his elegant, readable book. . . sets out to ex
Paperback, 276 pages
Published September 10th 1984 by Yale University Press (first published 1982)
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Athan Tolis
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Aaron Arnold
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Ian Robertson
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The second of three major works by the late University of Maryland economist Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations builds on the theories of his first work, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, and applies them to macroeconomic issues, in particular: stagflation, unemployment, and business cycles. Olson writes for a general audience, with both the economic theory and the examples presented in plain English and well explained. The final chapter delves a b ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: grad-school
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
Yifan (Evan) Xu (Hsu)
Sep 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 qu
Steven Peterson
Oct 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan Notzon
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Andrew Holt
Jun 21, 2017 rated it liked it
The most interesting chapter was the early one where he summarizes his Logic of Collective Action.
Jan 17, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Sep 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Joe Thacker
Mar 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Too much chaff and needlessly longwinded, so I wanted to give it two stars, but I learned a few new insights in this book so I was forced to give four stars.
Jun 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: development
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.
May 06, 2010 marked it as to-read
Reviewed by The Slate
Frank Thun
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Build on the logic of collective action, applied to history and forecasting
Jul 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Good book but a little too academic for my tastes.
Jacques Mebius
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is about growing the pie versus getting a bigger piece of the pie
Josh Tatum
Jan 27, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: politics, history
Mitch Daniels "Five Books"
Jul 09, 2009 marked it as to-read
Dry but still fascinating
Sep 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Great, often overlooked book using relatively basic incentive-based arguments to explain the rise and decline of nations.
Chris Wigert
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Shedrick M Bridgeforth
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Paul Evans
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Jul 20, 2016
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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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“Distributional coalitions slow down a society's capacity to adopt new technologies and to reallocate resources in response to changing conditions, and thereby reduce the rate of economic growth.” 0 likes
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