These opinions warrantied for the lifetime of your brain.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Club vs Public Goods; Future Persons; Voluntarism

To Pam Brown and Starchild:

BH) The public goods I mentioned were "courts, police, border defense,
streets, flood control, fire hydrants" (BH

PB) toll roads ... fire station insurance ... ambulance service (PB

A "public good" is by definition non-excludable, and none of your three
examples are public goods. Toll roads and fire/ambulance service are
non-rivalrous (until they become congested), and so are club goods (that
under congestion are private goods). I don't favor land-value fees to
finance club goods, except to the extent that they have non-excludable

For example, I said "fire hydrants", not water service. Pipes generally
are club goods, because you can exclude people from connecting to them.
However, you free-ride on the water system if nearby fire hydrants make
fire less likely to spread onto your property. Similarly, sewer pipes
are public goods to the extent they prevent contagion. In general, all
services aimed at preventing flood/contagion/conflagration/invasion are
public goods, because of their non-excludable benefits.

I said "streets", not toll roads. Streets will remain a public good
until most vehicles are equipped with FasTrak and most intersections
have a way to defend against free-riders. I'm all in favor of tolls on
bridges, tunnels, and other bottlenecks. But where tolls are impractical
to collect, the streets should be financed by the increased value they
create in the land that they serve. If our city block consists of just
1) my large estate and thriving storefront and 2) your little townhouse,
it's unfair and inefficient to finance our street through an equal
contribution by you and me.

Police protection is a club good that has significant non-excludable
benefits. If would-be criminals in an area cannot tell which persons or
property are protected by the local police, then free-riding makes this
service partially a public good. And of course, if 99.9% of people
prefer that the indigent get police protection, then they can free-ride
on the donations/fees that their neighbors pay to finance free police
protection for the poor.

So in general, yes, I'm in favor of financing excludable services (i.e.
club goods) through fees. But to the extent a service is non-excludable
(i.e. a public good), then the most fair and efficient way to finance it
is by charging the owners of the land which benefits from it --
especially if the cost of providing the service is a function of the
size of the area served. This is tends to be the case for the major
public goods like invasion defense, streets, flood control, fire
prevention, and police protection.

PB) The Georgist assumption that the land discoverer didn't EARN what
land he found --through risk and hard effort - but somehow "took" it (PB

Like Locke, I have no problem with you keeping what you find/take/grab,
as long as you leave as much and as good for others. I just can't agree
that pounding a "keep out" sign into a beach can establish perpetual
ownership of an island or continent for anybody -- man, king, or god.

Starchild, it's dangerous to assign rights to future persons, and the
geolibertarian analysis doesn't have to do that. The "rights" of
not-yet-here persons are proxied as the rights of their currently-here
progenitors/sponsors. This point becomes increasingly important as
technology makes it radically cheaper to create or import people en
masse. Mass creation or importing of people should not be allowed to
dilute the stake that the already-present hold in the local commons.

SC) the axiom that people would never voluntarily give even a small,
libertarian-oriented government (SC

"Never" is your word, not mine. My concern is, rather, that 1)
free-riding on the contributions of others will inevitably spiral into
catastrophic under-funding of public goods, and 2) no amount of
volunteerism can repeal the tragedy of the commons. Recall my motto of
"fees and fines, but never taxes". I'm OK with a non-mandatory
land-value fee that is enforced by 1) ostracism from the community's
streets/courts/parks and 2) massive retaliation for trespass thereon.
But I'm not OK with making it voluntary to pay fines for
polluting/depleting/congesting the commons. A voluntary fine isn't a
fine at all.