Public Action for Public Goods
This paper focuses on the relationship between public action and access to public goods. It begins by developing a simple model to capture the various mechanisms that are discussed in the theoretical literature on collective action. We use the model to illustrate the special assumptions embedded in many popular theories of collective action and show how their apparently conflicting predictions can be reconciled in a more general framework. This is followed by a review of empirical research on collective action and public goods. These studies, while broadly consistent with the theoretical literature, account for a small part of the observed variation in provision. Access to public goods is often better explained by "top-down" interventions rather than the "bottom-up" processes highlighted in the collective action literature. We conclude with a discussion of some historically important interventions of this type.
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