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On the Private Provision of Public Goods

Here’s a letter that I sent this morning to the New York Times:

Manhattan College political-science professor Pamela Chasek writes that “Without taxes and without government, there will be little or no investment in infrastructure, transit, education, science, national parks and so on” (Letters, Jan. 7).

Not so.  Examples abound of private provision of such public goods.  For instance, consider Reston, VA and Columbia, MD – towns whose designs and infrastructures were supplied privately.  Consider the many private schools that flourish today.  Consider Grace Rainey Rogers’s creation, nearly a century ago, of the Rainey Sanctuary – a 26,000-acre private wildlife preserve in Louisiana.  Consider Thomas Edison’s research labs in Menlo Park, NJ.

Consider also the research – including that by your own columnist Hal Varian, and that by my colleague Russell Roberts – showing that government provision of public goods crowds out a sizeable portion of private investment in public goods.

Donald J. Boudreaux

My friend Nick Calapa wrote to alert me to the fact that “Without five French Lasallian Brothers there would be no Manhattan College infrastructure, education etc…”  Nick referenced this Wikipedia entry, and this quotation specifically:

Manhattan College was founded as the Academy of the Holy Infancy in 1853 by five French Lasallian Brothers in a small building on Canal Street.

My colleague Dan Klein also points to this research on private toll-roads.

The Voluntary City (2002), edited by Beito, Gordon, and Tabarrok, is also a wonderful source of historical information in this matter.