Rational Rebels: Overcoming the Free-Rider Problem

Will H. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Participation in organized violent collective action against a government carries significant penalties should one be apprehended. Further, because such actions generally pursue collective goods, the participants will receive that good (if the action is successful) regardless of whether they participate. The free-rider hypothesis suggests that rational people will forego partici pation in large “N” collective action, unless they receive side payments of some kind. Yet, large numbers of people have periodically engaged in the type of behavior the free-rider hypothesis suggests they would not. This essay examines the solutions to this apparent paradox that have been pro posed in the literature and asks whether there has been any progress or cumulation of knowledge. Using Lakatosian criteria to evaluate this research program, the essay contends that there has indeed been progress. Further, I argue that future efforts should be invested in strategic models of collective action and that more empirical work needs to be done to flesh out the utility of recently proposed solutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-454
Number of pages38
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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