The Drawback of Collective Motion: An Illustration in Schooling – Econlib


As formalized by Mancur Olson in his seminal 1971 e book The Logic of Collective Motion, smaller social teams are simpler to prepare than bigger ones. Consequently and different issues equal, a small group might be more practical at lobbying governments, even when the overall advantages of its members are smaller than what all of the members of the massive group lose. One illustration might be present in major and secondary training, the place lecturers’ unions impose working situations which can be of their members’ pursuits however cut back the worth of the product the pupils and their mother and father get. (See “School in Rich Countries Are Making Poor Progress,” The Economist, July 7, 2024.)

Two events to an alternate profit from it (as judged by every get together for himself), in any other case one would decline. However this primary financial precept solely applies to a free alternate; it doesn’t apply if one get together coercively imposes its situations, or if one aspect contains involuntary members.

Since 2000, the OECD’s Programme for Worldwide Pupil Evaluation (PISA) evaluates 15-year-old college students in maths, studying, and science. The typical scores confirmed no enchancment till the early or mid 2010s, after which declined till 2022 (newest 12 months obtainable). Different indicators largely affirm the development, which precedes the Covid-19 epidemic. The journal notes:

Round 1 / 4 of 15-year-olds in OECD-member nations don’t meet primary proficiency in maths, studying and science, in accordance with requirements set by PISA. Which means 16m youngsters wrestle with duties involving numeracy or discover it harder than they need to to attract which means from primary texts.

One motive why the extra quite a few customers (the mother and father of the pupils) can’t change the scenario follows from Olson’s idea of collective motion:

Pupils and their households are hardly ever organised; this makes it simpler for lecturers’ unions to withstand modifications to, say, instructor coaching and analysis.

Some 70% of schoolteachers belong to a union, an unusually excessive proportion though it additionally contains much less controlling staff’ associations. Mother and father whose youngsters attend small colleges might be able to manage themselves domestically at low price (in a decentralized system like that of the US). But, they typically face state-level or national-level lecturers’ unions. Commerce unions profit from particular authorized privileges and powers, such because the employer’s obligation to barter, strike disruptions or threats thereof, or the duty of staff to be union members or to pay union dues. Relying on state regulation, lecturers’s unions can train a few of these powers, which facilitate their collective actions and translate into restrictive collective “agreements.”

I’m not arguing that this downside is the one one plaguing public colleges. Different imperfections of political processes together with politicians’ short-termism forestall elected officers from correcting the weaknesses of the general public training system, as The Economist acknowledges:

In the meantime leaders are requested to spend political capital on modifications that may not bear fruit for years.



The unionized schoolteacher, by DALL-E (below the affect of your humble blogger)


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