Public Goods is Fatally Flawed

The supposed freeloader problem of “public goods” is fatally flawed.

The argument goes that government is needed to provide public goods that have free access to everyone because when there’s no way to exclude non-payers from using a good nobody will profit off of its production, and so nobody will have the incentive to produce it. The classic example of this is roads. #MuhRoads

Not only does this argument appeal to the fatally flawed ethical philosophies of Pragmatism and Utilitarianism, but it also ignores 3 things:

1) If you really need a road, you’re gonna build it.

It is possible that you may benefit from having something over not having it enough that it’s still worth producing even if others freeload off of it. In that case, you’re going to produce it no matter what – unless you’re a complete fool that is. And if others in your community are in the same boat, you may actually have people voluntarily contributing to its production even without a direct profit motive. In that case, the potential that others will freeload off of it will not prevent you from producing it. You may at first wait to see if someone else builds it first, but if your well-being is suffering as a result, you’re not going to let that continue indefinitely.

If, on the other hand, you can live without the thing for a time, then perhaps your insistence on its absolute necessity is not nearly so valid as you claim, and your attempted justification of stealing from others to create the thing fails even the pragmatic standard – as fatally flawed as pragmatism is.

2) Toll roads are a possibility.

As much as these are typically dismissed out of hand as some inherent evil by the people who advocate for public goods, the idea that people who use a thing should be the ones who pay for it is just….. sensible. Public goods apologists may indeed scoff at this idea, but that’s just an opportunity to point out that what they’re really arguing for is wealth redistribution. They want non-users to have to pay so users don’t have to pay as much. That is theft.

3) Certain private organizations may actually want to allow free access to their roads.

Simply ask yourself who builds Walmart’s parking lot, and why don’t they charge for you to park there? Couldn’t the same market dynamic produce roads too? It doesn’t take much willing suspension of disbelief to imagine how HOAs could build the roads in residential neighborhoods while commercial districts would spontaneously organize around businesses pooling their resources to build roads around their storefronts. They may even build some of the access roads to the neighborhoods so people can come and buy things. Or perhaps the commercial district already exists when the neighborhood is being built so the HOA constructs the access road to help attract potential buyers. (not to mention the fact that potential buyers need to access the neighborhood just to inspect the properties and even to… you know… move in…) And that’s just one possibility.