Free Riding

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Overview

One individual’s contribution to a large collective project—such as voting in a national election or contributing to a public television fund-raising campaign—often seems negligible. A striking proposition of contemporary economics and political science is that it would be an exercise of reason, not a failure of it, not to contribute to a collective project if the contribution is negligible, but to benefit from it nonetheless.

But Richard Tuck wonders whether this phenomenon of free riding is a timeless aspect of human nature or a recent, historically contingent one. He argues for the latter, showing that the notion would have seemed strange to people in the nineteenth century and earlier and that the concept only became accepted when the idea of perfect competition took hold in economics in the early twentieth century.

Tuck makes careful distinctions between the prisoner’s dilemma problem, threshold phenomena such as voting, and free riding. He analyzes the notion of negligibility, and shows some of the logical difficulties in the idea—and how the ancient paradox of the sorites illustrates the difficulties.

Tuck presents a bold challenge to the skeptical account of social cooperation so widely held today. If accepted, his argument may over time encourage more public-spirited behavior.

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Editorial Reviews

Philip Pettit
This is a hugely interesting book that will almost certainly start a controversy. It addresses some of the widest assumptions in contemporary economic and social thought and calls them into question; and it provides a very illuminating history of the appearance of those assumptions.
John Ferejohn
Original, full of good ideas and insights, Richard Tuck's Free Riding could initiate an important debate about the least human of the human sciences.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674028340
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/19/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Tuck is Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction: Olson’s Problem
  • Part I: Philosophy
    • 1. The Prisoners’ Dilemma
    • 2. Voting and Other Thresholds
    • 3. Negligibility
    • Conclusion to Part I


  • Part II: History
    • 4. Rule and Act Utilitarianism
    • 5. Perfect Competition, Oligopoly and Monopoly
    • Conclusion to Part II


  • Index

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