Introduction to Political Science PART 3 – Collective Action

In the previous posts, we have learned about interests and power. We know that individuals each have their own self-interest. We also know that individuals use different kinds of power to satisfy their self-interest. In this post, we’ll learn about the theory of collective action. This is a theory that explains how individuals work together to satisfy shared interests. 

Collective Actions – Assumptions 

The theory of collective action assumes that there are groups of individuals with shared interests. In most cases, it is easier for a group to satisfy its members’ shared interests than for one of its individual members to satisfy his or her interests alone. According to the theory of collective action, leaders mobilize members of the group to take action. The leaders use incentives and coercion to mobilize the members. The incentives and coercion are necessary to solve the “free rider” problem. A free rider is a member who does not do any work to help the group but who benefits when the group’s interests are satisfied. 

 Interest Groups

An interest group is a voluntary association of individuals who take collective action to satisfy the members’ shared interests. A labor union is an example of an interest group. The members want to get the highest salaries possible. The leaders mobilize the members through incentives and coercion. Leaders may offer members incentives for attending labor union meetings such as free pizza and beer after the meeting. On the other hand, members who do not attend meetings might have to pay a fine. The fine is a form of coercion. Incentives and coercion are necessary because some members might not do any work. Even if they do not do any work, these free riders’ salaries will increase if the labor union succeeds. 

Countries like Japan and the United States (among many more), have interest group politics. There are conflicts of interest between different interest groups, and they try to use power to satisfy their interests. The government is often the target of their competing collective actions. For example, an interest group of companies might want the prefectural assembly to approve the new trash incinerator in their small town because it will lower their trash disposal costs, but an interest group of citizens there might oppose it because of pollution. Each interest group will mobilize its members and take collective action to satisfy their own interests. 

We study politics by understanding three important things: interests, power, and collective action. The theory of collective action is useful because it helps us understand what individuals with shared interests do to satisfy their interests. Leaders use incentives and coercion to mobilize their members. They do that because they want members to be active rather than free riders. When groups with different interests compete, we call it interest group politics. 

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