Mancur Olson

American economist

Mancur Lloyd Olson, Jr. (January 22, 1932 – February 19, 1998) was an American economist and social scientist.


  • No analysis of the limits of economic freedom or the uses of coercion by government, labor unions, or organizations of any kind can do justice to the complexity of the subject without taking account of the distinction between collective and noncollective goods.
    • The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (1965), III. The Labor Union and Economic Freedom
  • The spontaneous individual optimization that drives the theories with which I began is important, but it is not enough by itself. If spontaneous Coase‐style bargains, whether through laissez-faire or political bargaining and government, eliminated socially wasteful predation and obtained the institutions that are needed for a thriving market economy, then there would not be so many grossly inefficient and poverty-stricken societies.
    • "Big Bills Left on the Sidewalk: Why Some Nations Are Rich, and Others Poor"
  • A theory of power has long been the Holy Grail for political science, but the Grail has not been found.
    • Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships (2000), Ch. 1 The Logic of Power

Quotes about Olson

  • If you take the story I've given you, if you recognize that the traditional way we looked at politics had a lot of romance in it, then Public Choice comes along and removes the romance. I think the natural outcome of that is you're going to be more skeptical about government than you would have been otherwise.
    Mancur Olson, a good friend of mine, has been influential in Public Choice and objects very strongly to this argument that there is this conservative bias. There is no bias in it as such. But Mancur himself has necessarily had to look at politics differently because of that, despite the fact that his natural proclivity would be more left than mine. There's nothing inherently biased about it. It's just that the fact that if you start looking at the political sector or politics from a non-romantic view, you come to a different view on what has been traditional.