Star Wars and the Rebellion dilemma

at the root star wars Film, later dubbed a new hope, Luke Skywalker was initially reluctant to join the rebellion against the Empire. As he told Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Look, I can’t get involved. i have work It’s not that I like Empire; I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now… It’s a long way from here.”

Luke notes that joining the rebellion will be costly. Joining the rebellion would mean failing to engage in the work he is committed to, the work that helps his family. He finds the cost so high that he believes he “can’t get involved.”

In the real world, joining a revolutionary movement is also expensive. The time and resources that one puts towards a movement can otherwise be used for other purposes. In addition to spending time and resources, participants may encounter violence from the state or rival groups. At the same time, these movements often strive for political change that ultimately cannot be ruled out. If a rebellion overthrew an unwanted government, those who stood by also got rid of that unwanted government. This creates a collective action problem. There is an incentive to free ride on the efforts of others rather than taking the costly step of joining the fray.

And yet, despite these collective action problems, revolutions and other social movements occur. How is it? Why not choose all possible revolutionary free rides, as The logic of joint action Which leads us to the logic of sums inactivity? Part of the answer is that insurgents create electoral incentives for people to participate in their movement. A selective incentive is a disposable good that contributes to the production or provision of a collective good.

While freedom from a hated dictator or empire cannot be easily ruled out, there are many others. For example, a medal or some other kind of accolade can be omitted. Food and drinks are also provided at revolutionary gatherings. Friendship and respect for others who share your values ​​is less tangible, but it’s still expendable and it’s still something people value. The strategies available to solve collective action problems are varied, and often these solutions will play a mutually reinforcing role. Mark Lichbach explores a variety of these solutions in his book Rebel’s Dilemma Dennis Chong in his book explores some of the ways civil rights activists have addressed similar issues Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement.

This literature has been a major influence on my work with Chris Coyne on polycentric defenses. A variety of real-world social movements and rebellions show that people can tackle collective action problems and defend themselves against both external aggressors and their own internal governments. Many economists see free rider problems and implicitly assume that they can only be solved by some intervention such as taxation or accession. But sometimes people solve these problems from below.

Social dilemmas are real. Contributing to a collective goal is expensive, and it can often be tempting to say “I can’t get involved.” Still in star wars, and in our world, that’s just the beginning of the story. People are able to create strategies from below that convince their allies to join them in collective action.


Nathan P. Goodman is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Economics at New York University. His research interests include defense and peace economics, self-governance, public choice, institutional analysis, and Austrian economics.

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