Tag Archives: Mancur Olson

Rational choice arguments should carry a standard disclaimer

If every work that discusses reality under the rubric of rational self-interested actors carried this disclaimer, we all would be saved a lot of grief:

Since human nature is profoundly complex and individuals rarely act out of unmixed motives, the assumption of rational self-interest that I have been using to develop this theory is obviously much too simple to do justice to reality. But the caricature assumption that I have been using has not only simplified a forbiddingly complex reality but also introduced an element of impartiality: the same motivation was assumed in all regimes. The results are probably also robust enough to hold under richer and more realistic behavioral assumptions. [1]

Of course, the real debate comes into play when you consider whether this is a good idea to describe reality. I’m not throwing my featherweight either way at this stage, but this is a nice statement of the reason rational choice assumptions are used.

[1] Olson, Mancur. “Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development.” The American Political Science Review 87, no. 3 (1993): 567-576.