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Efficiency in the provision of pure public goods by private citizens

C. Lindsay () and William Dougan

Public Choice, 2013, vol. 156, issue 1, 43 pages

Abstract: This paper raises an old question and proposes a new answer. The question is, “Must public goods be produced by governments?” The consensus answer is “Yes,” on the grounds that transaction costs related to group size prevent all potential consumers of a public good from entering into voluntary arrangements to produce efficient levels of that good. Government intervention thus is required to achieve efficiency. Yet many obvious examples of public goods are not financed or even subsidized by government. Conspicuous examples of this phenomenon include the development of important innovations in technique in fields such as music (Bach and Beethoven), literature (Defoe, Dickens and Shakespeare, not excepting Homer or Adam Smith), and the visual arts (Cezanne), not to mention many crucial scientific discoveries. Indeed, the obvious public-good aspects of scientific knowledge induced many private societies to offer prizes for particular innovations. Two questions are raised by the private, voluntary provision of nonrival outputs or inputs: (1) what conditions contribute to this phenomenon, and (2) can voluntary provision come “close” to efficient provision? We suggest in this paper that, under certain conditions, the gains from many public goods whose benefits reach nationwide populations are largely realized at group sizes far smaller than even county or municipal jurisdictions. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2013

Keywords: Public goods; Voluntary provision; Non-cooperation; Voluntary providing group size (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2013
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DOI: 10.1007/s11127-012-9942-z

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