Mancur Olson on why civilizations fail

He was an economist with a reasonable theory of why civilizations fail:

“In 1982, he expanded the scope of his earlier work in an attempt to explain The Rise and Decline of Nations. The idea is that small distributional coalitions tend to form over time in countries. Groups like cotton-farmers, steel-producers, and labor unions will have the incentives to form lobby groups and influence policies in their favor.

These policies will tend to be protectionist and anti-technology, and will therefore hurt economic growth; but since the benefits of these policies are selective incentives concentrated amongst the few coalitions members, while the costs are diffused throughout the whole population, the “Logic” dictates that there will be little public resistance to them.

Hence as time goes on, and these distributional coalitions accumulate in greater and greater numbers, the nation burdened by them will fall into economic decline.”

The key is that groups with incentives have the resources to enforce self-serving policies, while individuals can’t get motivated to oppose these policies because they don’t see the personal cost.

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