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Mancur Olson's analysis of how special interests can weaken democracy helped to shape the policies of Tory governments in the 1980s. But Olson did not believe that all government was bad, says Iain McLean. He favoured a limited government able to encompass wide, not narrow interests

By Iain McLean   May 1998

Mancur Olson, who died of a heart attack on 19th February outside his office at the University of Maryland, was one of the most distinguished economists of our time. His dissertation, The Logic of Collective Action, revolutionised the way we think about political lobbies as well as most other areas of social interaction. A later book made controversial claims about the relationship between lobbies and growth. His third blockbuster, not yet published, analyses why some societies do well and others badly as they emerge from autocracy.

The Economist obituary said in print what academics had been whispering for years: why…

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