Mancur Olson | The Economist

Mancur Olson’s 1998 obituary from The Economist sums up his beliefs as to why Germany and Japan made such startling recoveries after WWII while Britain, one of the victors, floundered.

The conclusion was striking. Narrow, self-serving groups had an inherent, though not insuperable, advantage over broad ones that worry about the well-being of society as a whole. How might that insight explain the fate of nations? In 1982, in “The Rise and Decline of Nations”, [Mancur Olson] offered an answer.

In any human society, he said, parochial cartels and lobbies tend to accumulate over time, until they begin to sap a country’s economic vitality. A war or some other catastrophe sweeps away the choking undergrowth of pressure groups. This had happened in Germany and Japan, but not in Britain, which, although physically damaged in the war, had retained many of its old institutions. Surely there was some less cataclysmic route to renewal? Yes, said Mr Olson, a nation’s people could beat back the armies of parochialism, but only if the danger were recognised and reforms embraced.

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