Olson and imperceptible differences: the Tuck critique

Published

Journal Article

© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York. This paper examines Olson’s “logic of collective action” through the lens of a sustained critique by political theorist/philosopher Richard Tuck. Tuck’s discussion exposes the emphasis Olson places on “imperceptibility” in his analysis of free riding. Tuck makes a plausible case for thinking that Olson confuses incentives to free ride (which are a matter of the relative benefit to the individual of contributing to a public purpose compared with the cost) with negligibility of contribution. Moreover, Olson seems to confuse imperceptibility of individual contribution on aggregate output with imperceptibility of action. In lots of cases where there are norms of contributing, compliance with the norm is totally detectable even if the effects of a single individual’s compliance on aggregate realization of the common purpose are not. But many forces for compliance (of which social esteem is one) rely only on the latter kind of perceptibility. I conclude with Tuck’s analysis of voting—partly because the topic is of special interest to a public choice readership, and partly because turnout seems to be a notable case where there is significant contribution despite the large numbers setting—and hence a challenge to the spirit of Olson’s emphasis on numbers as such.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Brennan, G

Published Date

  • September 1, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 164 / 3-4

Start / End Page

  • 235 - 250

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0048-5829

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s11127-015-0294-3

Citation Source

  • Scopus