I just finished Mancur Olson’s last book, Power and Prosperity and I’m pleased to report that it’s a real page-turner. I learned almost as much from it as I did from his classic work The Logic of Collective Action. Among its many valuable features, Power and Prosperity provides a very helpful theoretical account of the functioning of the Soviety economic system and the difficulties of transitioning to free markets. The treatment of the role of “encompassing interests” and the transition from roving banditry to stationary banditry (autocracy) and from stationary banditry to democratic liberalism was also quite helpful and drew on his earlier work on collective action. (I may blog a longer essay on the topic, but…it’s late. So that will wait for a day or two. I’ll also add some critical remarks on his theory of collective action, which is rich with insights, but could use a dose of Anthony de Jasay’s insights from his book Social Contract, Free Ride.)
As usual, I’ve got a number of other books going. I just picked up and found quite engrossing Neal Ascherson’s Black Sea, through which I hope to become better informed about and better able to understand the politics of the region (e.g., the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia, which is one among many conflicts that cannot be understood without a better grasp of the history of the region than I have at present).
(Note: Power and Prosperity has the unfortunate subtitle “Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships,” which doesn’t really make much sense. But don’t let that put you off the book.)