I’m slowly rereading Olson’s “The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups”. I find it pretty frustrating, but that’s another story.
In the section I was reading last night he gets to musing that there are two flavors of clubs: inclusive v.s. exclusive. Both create club goods. The default tendency of an inclusive club is to welcome new members, while members of exclusive clubs tend to prefer that the membership shrink. For example a lobbying group seeking lower taxes on industry will be inclusive, the more the merrier; meanwhile a members of an industry will tend to prefer that the number of competitors shrink. Thus, for example, the members of an industry standards body with associated patent pool may prefer to trend toward a smaller and smaller membership. In another example a professional society who’s function includes granting professional status to it’s members will might tend toward exclusive; e.g. a profession with a 1o0 members can charge more for it’s services than one with a 10 thousand members.
I sense foreshadowing in Olson’s plot development. Since any hint of selfish motivation always excites economists I’ve little doubt he will soon explain how an exclusive club is more sustainable.
The name of this blog is about this topic. A club of enthusiasts will not casually ascribe membership in their club to others, in fact doing so would offend them. The enthusiasm acts as a binding force for the group, and dragging in those who lack it is likely to weaken that. Members of the local model rocket club may engage in outreach, striving to juice up other people’s enthusiasm for the hobby, but it would be quite odd for them to randomly pick people and anoint them as members.
Clubs labor to create club and public goods. That is their primary goal, but other goals get piled on sometimes intentionally sometimes by happenstance. An example of that is how members of some clubs often garner status. To start the goal is to create the good, in support of that the club fiddles with the process that maintains the pool of members. As an unintended side effect membership becomes selective, and hence elite, and hence confers status. This status creation wasn’t the goal of the club, and in fact it’s a distraction from the goal. Good members are engaged with the primary goal, creating the goods; further they are peeved at the way the status becomes a distraction from that. Meanwhile, outsiders who are much less concerned about creating the good tend to see only the status. How perverse is that!
Most clubs are actually a hybrid, of course, you want members who contribute to the goal but at the same time you want to extend a broad and enthusiastic welcome to any and all; since how else can you hope to search out the enthusiastic members.
No doubt there are scenarios where the agenda of a club is entirely captured by the status generation. As an outsider it would be hard to know for sure; for example I know practically nothing about Mensa, which was the first club that came to mind as existing entirely to create status for it’s members, but for all I know if I was inside that club I’d know that it exists to provide a delightful pool of fraternal activities for it’s members. The insider/outsider problem is fascinating. For example I certainly feel that people who own Rolex watches are just buying status, but then you discover that lots of those are sold to people who own multiples and have special watch humidors for their collections. It’s confusing.
Inclusive/Exclusive is not the only dialectics that can be used to sort clubs. It’s probably worth starting a list.
- Primary goal: create club goods v.s. create public goods.
- Focus is inward facing (i.e. on some project (think barn raising)) v.s. focus is outward facing (for example on some threat)
- Membership – is naturally inclusive v.s. exclusive; e.g. the existing members would naturally prefer more or less members going forward.
- The club tends has high/low capacity to exclude others from access to it’s club goods.
- Clubs that create a broad range of goods v.s. clubs that fix upon a single good
- Clubs who’s principal good’s quality depends upon the quality of the members contributions such that the best contribution sets the quality v.s. those where the worst contribution sets the quality.
These are not entirely orthogonal, are they?