The Baltic people of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia gained recognition with their successful use of a cultural tool, singing folkloric songs, to protest collectively against their common Soviet oppressor in the summer of 1988, preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rational-choice theorists have argued that large rebellious movements are paradoxical because the larger the number of potential revolutionaries, the greater the leadership, participation, and coordination problems they face (Olson, 1971; Tullock, 1974). This paper investigates Estonia’s Singing Revolution and illustrates how ethnic Estonians used their shared cultural beliefs and singing traditions as a tacit, informal institutional solution to overcome the collective-action problems with organizing and participating in mass singing protests against the Soviet regime. The paper goes further to extend the standard rational-choice framework and to include a more dynamic, entrepreneurial-institutional perspective on socio-cultural change by accounting for the role of cultural leaders as cultural entrepreneurs, a subset of institutional entrepreneurs. The success of Estonia’s Singing Revolution can be ultimately attributed to leadership in the form of cultural entrepreneurship going back to pre-Soviet Estonian times. The revived legacy of ancient shared beliefs, folkloric practices, and singing tradition represented the necessary social capital for the Estonian people to voice collectively shared preferences for political and economic governance during a window of constitutional opportunity. Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost, a policy aimed to improve Soviet formal institutions by fostering freedom of speech and political transparency, also provided a context propitious for the Singing Revolution because it lowered the perceived costs of participation in the rebellious singing and opened a window of opportunity for political change.
If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.
Aligica, P. D. & Boettke, P. J. (2009), Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School, Abingdon: Routledge.
Arrow, K. J. (1962), ‘Economic Welfare and the Allocation of Resources for Invention,’ in The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity: Economic and Social Factors, NBER Special Conference Series, New York & Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Baumol, W. J. (1968), ‘Entrepreneurship in economic theory,’ The American Economic Review, vol. 58, no. 2, pp. 64–71.
Baumol, W. J. (1990), ‘Entrepreneurship: productive, unproductive, and destructive,’ Journal of Political Economy, vol. 98, no. 5, pp. 893–921. https://doi.org/10.1086/261712
Baumol, W. J. (2006), ‘Return of the Invisible Men: The Microeconomic Value Theory of Inventors and Entrepreneurs,’ Allied Social Science Associations Conference, New York: New York University.
Boettke, P. J. (1993), Why Perestroika Failed: The Politics and Economics of Socialist Transformation, New York: Routledge.
Boettke, P. J. (1996), ‘Why culture matters: economics, politics and the imprint of history,’ Nuova Economia e Storia, no. 3, pp. 189–214.
Boettke, P. J. & Coyne, C. J. (2003), ‘Entrepreneurship and development: cause or consequence?’ in R. Koppl, J. Birner & P. Kurrild-Klitgaard (eds.) Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurial Studies, Advances in Austrian Economics, vol. 6, Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 67–87.
Boettke, P. J. & Coyne, C. J. (2009), ‘Context matters: institutions and entrepreneurship,’ Foundations and Trends in Entrepreneurship, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 135–209. https://doi.org/10.1561/0300000018
Boettke, P. J.; Coyne, C. J.; Leeson, P. T. & Sautet, F. (2005), ‘The new comparative political economy,’ The Review of Austrian Economics, vol. 18, no. 3–4 (December 1), pp. 281–304.
Boettke, P. J. & Nicoara, O. (2015), ‘What have we learned from the collapse of Communism?’ in C. J. Coyne & P. J. Boettke (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Austrian Economics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 643–677.
Boettke, P. J. & Prychitko, D. L. (1998), Market Process Theories, 2 volumes, in M. Blaug (ed.) The International Library of Critical Writings in Economics Series, Aldershot: Edward Elgar Publishing.
DiMaggio, P. (1988), ‘Interest and agency in institutional theory,’ in L. Zucker (ed.) Institutional Patterns and Culture, Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company, pp. 3–22.
Djankov, S.; Glaeser, E.; La Porta, R.; Lopez-de-Silanes, F. & Shleifer, A. (2003), The New Comparative Economics, Policy Research Working Paper, no. 3054, Washington, DC: The Word Bank, Private Sector Development Vice Presidency & Private Sector Advisory Department.
Eggertsson, T. (2010), ‘Mapping social technologies in the cultural commons,’ Cornell Law Review, vol. 95, no. 4, pp. 711–732.
Elster, J.; Offe, C. & Preuss, U. K. (1998), Institutional Design in Post-Communist Societies: Rebuilding the Ship at Sea, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511628351
Goldstone, J. A. (1994), ‘Is revolution individually rational? Groups and individuals in revolutionary collective action,’ Rationality and Society, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 139–166. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043463194006001008
Goodin, R. E. & Tilly, C. (2008), The Oxford Handbook of Contextual Political Analysis, Oxford: Oxford Handbooks Online.
Granovetter, M. (1978), ‘Threshold models of collective behavior,’ American Journal of Sociology, vol. 83, no. 6, pp. 1420–1443. https://doi.org/10.1086/22670
Gross, T. (2002), ‘Anthropology of collective memory: Estonian national awakening revisited,’ TRAMES, vol. 6(56/51), no. 4, pp. 342–354.
Hardin, R. (1982), Collective Action, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Iwaskiw, W. R., ed.; Library of Congress & Federal Research Division (1996), Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: Country Studies, Area Handbook Series, Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Federal Research Division.
Karklins, R. & Petersen, R. (1993), ‘Decision calculus of protesters and regimes: Eastern Europe 1989,’ The Journal of Politics, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 588–614. https://doi.org/10.2307/2131990
Kirzner, I. M. (1973), Competition and Entrepreneurship, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kirzner, I. M. (1979), Perception, Opportunity, and Profit: Studies in the Theory of Entrepreneurship, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kirzner, I. M. & Sautet, F. (2006), The Nature and Role of Entrepreneurship in Markets: Implications for Policy, Mercatus Policy Series, Policy Primer no. 4, Arlington, VA: Mercatus Centre, George Mason University.
Kreps, D. M. (1988), Notes on the Theory of Choice, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Kreutzwald, F. R. (1982), Kalevipoeg: An Ancient Estonian Tale, transl. by J. Kurman, Moorestown, NJ: Symposia Press.
Kruks, S. (2003), ‘Kalevipoeg and Lačplēsi: the way we imagine our communities. A sociological reading of Estonian and Latvian epics,’ Interlitteralia, vol. 8, pp. 227–247.
Kuhnert, S. (2001), ‘An evolutionary theory of collective action: Schumpeterian entrepreneurship for the common good,’ Constitutional Political Economy, vol. 12, no. 1 (March 1), pp. 13–29. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016677020228
Kuran, T. (1989), ‘Sparks and prairie fires: A theory of unanticipated political revolution,’ Public Choice, vol. 61, no. 1, pp. 41–74. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00116762.
Kuran, T. (1991), ‘The East European revolution of 1989: is it surprising that we were surprised?’ American Economic Review, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 121–125.
Kuran, T. (1995), Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lauristin, M. & Vihalemm, P., eds. (1997), Return to the Western World: Cultural and Political Perspectives on the Estonian Post-Communist Transition, Tartu: Tartu University Press.
Leeson, P. T. (2010), ‘Rational choice, Round Robin, and rebellion: an institutional solution to the problems of revolution,’ Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, vol. 73, no. 3, pp. 297–307. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2009.12.003
Lichbach, M. I. (1994), ‘Rethinking rationality and rebellion theories of collective action and problems of collective dissent,’ Rationality and Society, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 8–39. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043463194006001003
McGinnis, M. & Ostrom, E. (1996), ‘Design principles for local and global commons,’ in O. R. Young (ed.) The International Political Economy and International Institutions, vol. 2, Brookfield, VT: Edward Elgar, pp. 465–493.
Roland, G. (2008), ‘Fastmoving and slow-moving institutions,’ in J. Kornai, L. Mátyás & G. Roland (eds.) Institutional Change and Economic Behaviour, International Economic Association Series (Book 144), Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 134–159.
Romer, P. (1991), ‘Increasing returns and new developments in the theory of growth,’ in W. Barnett et al. (eds.) Equilibrium Theory and Applications: Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium in Economic Theory and Econometrics, Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 83–110.
Rosenberg, N. (1982), Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Samuelson, P. A. (1947), Foundations of Economic Analysis, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Santagata, W.; Bertacchini, E.; Bravo, G. & Marrelli, M. (2011), Cultural commons and cultural communities. Paper presented to ‘Sustaining Commons: Sustaining Our Future’, the Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, 10–14 January 2011, Hyderabad, India.
Sautet, F. (2005), The Role of Institutions in Entrepreneurship: Implications for Development Policy, Mercatus Policy Series, Policy Primer No. 1, Arlington, VA: Mercatus Centre, George Mason University.
Schelling, T. C. (1960), The Strategy of Conflict, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Schumpeter, J. A. (1950), Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 3rd ed., New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.
Schumpeter, J. A. (1983 ), A Theory of Economic Development, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Sen, A. K. (1967), ‘Isolation assurance and the social rate of discount,’ The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 81, no. 1, pp. 112–124. https://doi.org/10.2307/1879675
Shane, S. (2003), A General Theory of Entrepreneurship, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Shane, S. & Venkataraman, S. (2000), ‘The promise of entrepreneurship as a field of research,’ The Academy of Management Review, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 217–226. https://doi.org/10.2307/259271