Sorry for another non-space blog post (space posts take time!) I saw this link over on Arnold Kling’s blog, and thought it was worth sharing. The article is reviewing a book that’s almost as old as I am: The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities, by Mancur Olson.
Basically, the book covers how democratic nations end up stagnating due to special interests, and the mismatch in incentives between special interests and the country as a whole. Greenspun gave an example of this mismatch:
There are a handful of automobile producers and millions of automobile consumers. It makes sense for an automobile company, acting individually, to lobby Congress for tariffs. The company will reap 20-40 percent of the benefits of the tariff. It doesn’t make sense for an individual consumer, however, to lobby Congress. It will cost him millions of dollars to lobby against Congress and preventing the tariff will save him only a few thousand dollars on his next car purchase. The economy suffers because some resources that would have been put to productive use are instead hanging around Washington and because cars are more expensive than they should be.
[As an aside, one could probably look at recent events in public-sector space programs, and find at least one or two similar examples.]
It’s eerie how prescient Olson’s work appears to have been. None of it seems to be particularly surprising, but it sure does explain a lot.