I believe there's an economics term that describes people who refuse to participate in a community project even though they receive the same benefit from the project. For example, the village needs a new fence to keep the wolves out. There are some who refuse to contribute to the new fence. The new fence still gets built and the holdouts still benefit. What is the correct term for the the holdouts?


3 Answers 3


I think the economic term is free-riders.

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    $\begingroup$ The Free-Rider Problem... to fill in the gaps. $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Jan 13, 2022 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ We generally speak of free-riders as being discretionary (opportunistic) consumers (having a choice) that do not pay (often illegally). This is not the same as a conscientious objector or or lesser taxed individuals in a socialist society. The fence is a public good, yes. Someone capable of affording their contribution but abstaining/shirking or welching on their obligation may find themselves wolf food. $\endgroup$
    – mckenzm
    Jan 14, 2022 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ While this answer may be correct, you should edit your answer to support it (e.g. by citing a definition or explanation of the term/concept). $\endgroup$
    – V2Blast
    Jan 14, 2022 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ @V2Blast I think in this case it's fine. This is such a basic item of terminology and the OP already described the concept themselves so there is little value in any further elaboration; it would be redundant. I suppose a citation would be harmless but I don't feel it's necessary to "prove" that such a well known term is correct. $\endgroup$
    – JBentley
    Jan 15, 2022 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think this describes the scenario that OP describes. Otherwise everyone is a free rider. $\endgroup$
    – Braiam
    Jan 15, 2022 at 13:57

"Free Riders" is the term you're looking for.

The classic examples are all something to do with roads: Say three out of four neighbors on a street pay to have their road plowed. The fourth doesn't and still benefits. We would call him a free rider.

That this happens at all is very offensive to some people, but whether and to what extent it's worth solving is not really clear cut. Quick examples: consider if only the three people who paid actually care if the road is paved, and the fourth is on vacation for the next three months. Should he pay? Should he be forced to pay? What if he's just a hermit, and so benefits but doesn't value that benefit?

The "free-rider problem" is strongly related to this, and is basically the game-theory-style incentive to defect from the paying group to the non-paying group.

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    $\begingroup$ The "unwilling free-rider" might even actively be opposed to the thing they are supposed to pay for. I have to pay taxes for ridiculously bright street lights requested by neighbours who are afraid of the dark but stay inside, while I'm the only one walking outside at night and would prefer a calmer and more natural environment. $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Jan 15, 2022 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @pipe Exactly. Feel free to edit if you think there’s an improvement to be made. $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    Jan 15, 2022 at 21:01

Maybe the term Beneficiaries. Quite simple, very logical (if not trivial) and is used in economic literature (especially in terms of international development). Another possible, although less common, term is recipients.

Note: In current approaches to international development, these terms are now out-of-date and participants is almost always preferred. It is well accepted that development outcomes are more successful and sustainable when those who benefit participate and contribute.

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    $\begingroup$ @Giskard - I would counter that view in that if you pay premiums/taxes, you are participating in an economic transaction (whether that participation is passive or active). You have made a decision to participate and are providing some input into what you may receive. You are a participant first and foremost as without that decision you could not benefit. $\endgroup$
    – Mari153
    Jan 14, 2022 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ I understand what you mean but this (IMO) is not the way the words benefit and beneficiary are used in economics. I believe you that there is a subdiscipline in which this usage became accepted before it was phased out. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Jan 14, 2022 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ Everyone who benefits from something is a beneficiary, whether they paid or not. $\endgroup$
    – Barmar
    Jan 14, 2022 at 15:22

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