Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

What Did Economists Do? Euvoluntary, Voluntary, and Coercive Institutions for Collective Action

25 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2013  

William F. Shughart II

Huntsman School of Business; The Independent Institute

Diana Weinert Thomas

Creighton University

Date Written: November 21, 2013


Taking James Buchanan’s 1963 presidential address to the Southern Economic Association as our point of departure, we summarize some of the contributions to the literatures of economics and political science that responded over the next 50 years to his challenge to concentrate on “exchange” rather than on “choice,” thereby placing the theory of markets rather than the theory of resource allocation at center stage. We specifically expand upon his example of swamp draining as a collective action problem, in response to which the swamp’s neighbors likely will find it their individual self-interests to delegate decisions about swamp-clearing to the “community as a collective unit,” operating under clearly specified “rules for making choices, and these decisions coercively enforced once they are made.” Consideration of actual solutions to the challenges of managing common pool resources or of providing collectively consumed goods shows that alternatives exist to top-down rule enforcement by a community or state exercising its police powers. Governance does not require a government, and we do not see coercion if the penalties for violating rules emerge from the bottom up, are freely agreed to ahead of time and exit from the collective unit is possible.

Suggested Citation

Shughart, William F. and Thomas, Diana Weinert, What Did Economists Do? Euvoluntary, Voluntary, and Coercive Institutions for Collective Action (November 21, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

William Shughart

Huntsman School of Business ( email )

3565 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322-3565
United States

The Independent Institute ( email )

100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621-1428
United States


Diana Thomas (Contact Author)

Creighton University ( email )

2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views