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Wednesday, September 27, 2006


A Fable of Collective Action

While flailing around for something interesting to post for the blog, I thought about how Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action might be applied to children's stories and the like.
The first one that came into my head was The Little Red Hen. Click the link to refresh your memory of the story. It seems to me that this little fable explains the problems of the small group that Olson mentioned. The group is small enough that one individual, the Hen, could act to provide a collective good for the group, without the participation of the other members. The free-riding by the Duck, the Cat, and the Dog did not really hinder the Hen's provision of the good. On the other hand, the group was not large enough for the free-riding to go unnoticed or unpunished.
Perhaps the Hen should have made it clear that the bread was not a collective good, but rather a selective incentive, from the start. Had she said "This wheat should be planted, who will help me and share the bread?," she would have saved herself some toil and motivated the group to help.

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