Free Markets, Free People

The myth of “collective action”

As we launch ourselves further into an era of “collective action” as Obama called it in his 2nd Inaugural address, we can be sure that reality won’t stop the left from remaining true believers in its ultimate power and good and demanding it be forced on us all.  But what does that really mean?

Let’s hark back to Mancur Olson’s critique of collective action for a moment and point out a little ground truth about it, shall we?

Olson’s critique of collective action is complicated, and it is made less accessible by an ungainly prose style. But the gist is that large numbers of people do not naturally band together to secure common interests. In fact, the larger the group, the less likely it is to act in a truly collective manner.

As Olson explained, the interests that unite large groups are necessarily of the lowest-common-denominator variety. Therefore the concrete benefits of collective action to any individual are usually small compared with the costs — in time, effort and money — of participation. “Free-riding” is a constant threat — as the difficulties of collecting union dues illustrates.

By contrast, small groups are good at collective action. It costs less to organize a few people around a narrow, but intensely felt, shared concern. For each member, the potential benefits of joint action are more likely to outweigh the costs, whether or not success comes at the larger society’s expense.

Now, to me, that’s common sense. The bigger the group the more unlikely it will find common ground than a smaller group. So urging a nation of 300 million to a common effort or collective action? Yeah, not going to happen – at least in the areas Obama is likely to want to make such an effort.

That’s not to say that collective action won’t happen. It happens everyday in DC as Charles Lane points out:

Hence, the housing lobby, the farm lobby and all the special-interest groups that swarm Congress. Hence, too, the conspicuous absence of an effective lobby on behalf of all taxpayers or, for that matter, all poor people.

If there is any “collective action” that will take place in DC, besides those noted, it will be among the politicians who band together (and break apart) depending on what they’re after this week or next.  Their constituency?  Not that big of a concern to most.  Those that reside inside the beltway are more likely on their radar than those who voted to put them in office.

So when Obama called on Americans to once again act “as one nation, and one people,” he was, at best, stating an aspiration.

No he’s not – he’s mouthing platitudes to calm the masses, put the opposition on the defensive and set himself up to get his way. And this is how that will work:

Olson’s assessment of reality, both historical and contemporary, is less lofty but more accurate: “There will be no countries that attain symmetrical organization of all groups with a common interest and thereby attain optimal outcomes through comprehensive bargaining.”

Nope. It will be the group/party that is able to appeal the best to the masses and thereby garner more  of a veneer of support for their agenda than can the other party/group, whether or not the ultimate goal of the action is good for the country or the majority or not. Whether it really benefits the country as a whole usually has little bearing on the effort. And the minority? Well, they’re simply left hanging in the wind.

Their call for “collective action” is a cover, a means of draping the usual politics in high sounding rhetoric. The reality of the situation is that what he calls “collective action” is simply a new code phrase for continued class warfare and redistribution of income. The purpose of proposing “collective action” is to enable him and his cronies to label anyone who opposes them and their actions as divisive, unpatriotic and just about any other name they can think of necessary to demonize and dismiss them.

Meanwhile, the “collective” dismantling of this once great country will continue apace.


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21 Responses to The myth of “collective action”

  • This sounds a lot like “Chaos Theory” where a large group would be expected to have a larger aggregate entropy.
    This is why politicians have always talked in general themes when it came time for war or periods of unhappiness.

  • The TEA party is a call for collective action as well. And second amendment supporters are also engaging in collective actions. It works both ways much to Obamas dismay

    • Yeah.  This Obama chap isn’t all that inclusive is he ?  He has a real problem with diversity too.

      • Eh, the voting uterus brigade got free birth control. The free stuff coalition got their swag. Paid in full for their votes.

  • What’s interesting (most interesting) to me about this is that markets very successfully promote collective action…one individual choice at a time.
    You just can’t beat ’em…

  • Ah, how I yearn for the tales from my youth, of the rugged collectivist, carving a home out of wilderness, taming the rough frontier through collective decisions and collective responsibility.

    • Ah, yes, the good old days of the Oneida Community and other collectives formed in our nation’s past. None of which survived very long. I wonder if they still teach about these things in middle school history courses, where I learned of them.
      The Oneida community is particularly amusing. Founded in 1848 it dissolved in 1881, eventually becoming a silverware manufacturer. “Even though the community reached a maximum population of about 300, it had a complex bureaucracy of 27 standing committees and 48 administrative sections.”
      “Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it”, as a dead white male once said.

      • “Up-Twinkles….!!!”

      • Most of these clowns are probably unaware of the American experimentation in communes in the 1800’s.
        Since I bet many of them only vaguely understand the entire concept anyway.

  • “Collective action” is just another way of saying “committee”, and we all know how well committees work, as exemplified by the Committee of the Whole in our nation’s capital. Of course committees work quite well if they are just a rubber stamp used to legitimize one point of view. I think we all know which course big O has in mind.

  • Ah, but when the media are at their beck and call, all they need is a few who are willing to show up in public defense of an objective (paid though they may be) and this can be whipped up into some sort of majority for collective action per se.  Shame on you for your disbelief!  Can’t you see you’re in the minority?  Your objections are invalid!

    • As Rags observed above, but in the reverse….DOWN TWINKLES.
      Or in actual operation – down tinkles. but trust us, “it’s raining….”

  • All things being equal bigger militaries beat smaller militaries, generally.  Maybe they kill less people per person, but sometimes winning is more important. 

    • Our current war-fighting doctrines show that is not true.

      • “all other things being equal”
        We’re not symmetrical in size, but neither in our targets and willingness to violate traditional battlefield conventions like wearing a uniform, etc. 

    • Ah, a student of Voltaire – “God is always on the side of the heaviest battalions”

  • And this why the left keeps winning. Haven’t you ever wondered why when we have superior numbers they still win (I mean, aside from the underhanded tactics)?
    If we don’t start cobbling our small groups together (the assorted shades and varieties of Conservatives, Libertarians, Independents, and yes even the dreaded/celebrated Moderates) with the sole goal of defeating and ultimately destroying the left, we will continue to lose.
    To quote an old Who lyric from 30 years ago, “the trouble is we’ve forgotten how we used to fight”.
    And we better learn fast and get every bit as nasty and vicious as they are, which is what they fear the most.
    Sometimes in order to win the war, you have to put aside principal in order to crush the enemy. We can go back to our principals afterward, they can not. It is after all who they are.
    If we put up fighters who will smack these punks in the mush, call them on the lies and bullshit, the “mushy middle” will come to our side.
    Remember Patton? “All REAL Americans love a fight” (or words to that effect).
    We’ve been behaving like pussies and so we are treated like pussies. Even though deep down the left knows they are at heart the REAL pussies and will back down when confronted.
    We know the media will stab us in the back no matter what, so they need the same (Newt was great at this).
    The bottom line you need to understand is this: their ultimate goal is to RULE us, not govern (ValJar even let that slip before the one’s first coronation).
    If that isn’t reason to fight, what is?

  • How about a committee to determine what the role of gov’t should be.