Public services are good, but they're not "public goods"
But true public goods are also good and deserve more support
A recent David Zipper column in Bloomberg noted that mass transit is not a public good in the technical economics sense and that this is relevant to arguments about whether cities should invest in $0 fares.
Some of the discussion generated by the piece focused on whether (and how much) it matters that people are using a piece of economics jargon correctly. I have mixed feelings about this. Transit is certainly an example of a public service — something like parks and roads and fire services that are provided by the state in most places. These services normally exist in part because people think they are good, so if folks want to use “public good” to mean something that is publicly provided and that they think is good, then I’m not sure that’s the worst thing in the world.
The economics terminology, after all, is confusing. Most of what the public sector does is not a public good, and lots of public goods are provided by private nonprofits and sometimes even just by individuals. Matt Gr…
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