Saturday, May 11, 2013

Recommended Reading: Why Aren't We Talking About "Public Goods?"

The Real World Economics Review today asks how we can develop a vocabulary to discuss "public goods." Follow the link to read the entire article.  Here are some excerpts:

In the real world, public goods include clean air, clean water, street lights, emergency call service, disaster relief, food and drug safety, public parks and beaches, education, and dozens more, all of which citizens make use of every day and enjoy unthinkingly. Over 90 percent of U S citizens who deny ever receiving benefits from a  government program actually participated in one or more government programs (Social Security, college loans, the child care tax credit and the like), as admirably documented by Suzanne Mettler of Cornell in her research on “the submerged state”.
Awareness of public goods, and their utility and value, is sorely lacking in public discourse.  Instead, we hear about “free markets”, “free enterprise” and “free trade” and  are told that “government is the problem, not the solution,” or that “government should be run like a business”.  Such neoliberal vocabulary, derived from neoclassical economics, dominates public dialog and policy-making, suppresses the recognition of the ubiquity and value of public goods, undermines effective governance and ultimately reduces the supply of public goods.
Public goods are produced in a non-market environment, an environment inadequately addressed by mainstream economics. In the neoclassical model there is essentially no vocabulary for talking about the production of public goods, no theory of effective or efficient non-market production.
We need to revive and reframe the concept of public goods.  This issue is not merely rhetorical. A concept of public goods is immensely important.  
  • The absence of a widely-held, constructive idea of public goods in public discourse denies citizens the ability to have an informed conversation, or to make informed decisions, about things that matter mightily to the quality of their lives and their communities.
  • Its absence robs public policy makers, leaders and managers of the concept that is most central to their reason for being.