The Dish noted this morning that Tunisian activists are taking positions in the new government. Putting this turn of events in context, David Henderson invokes a 1971 paper by Gordon Tullock called "The Paradox of Revolution":
In it, [Tullock] pointed out a simple but powerful insight. Any one person's decision to participate in a revolution, he noted, does not much affect the probability that the revolution will succeed.
Therefore, when each person considers participating in the revolution, the expected benefits that he takes account of that are generated by the revolution are not much affected by his own decision to participate. This is true, noted Tullock, even for the most visible and influential participants. On the other hand, noted Tullock, a nasty government can individualize the costs very effectively by heavily punishing those who participate in a revolution. So anyone contemplating participating in a revolution will be comparing heavy individual costs and small benefits that are simply his pro rata share of the overall benefits.
Therefore, argued Tullock, for people to participate, they must expect some benefits that are tied to their own participation, such as a job in the new government or whatever. Tullock noted that, in fact, the typical revolution involves many of the people who are actually in the government they are revolting against. This is evidence for his model, Tullock said, because such people are particularly well situated to replace the incumbent office-holders.
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