Public good examples will generally vary from one society to the next based on the government’s spending, the social efforts of companies as well as how the term is understood in that particular society. For societies to function, there must be open and equal access to certain goods and services. Governments generally play a significant role in providing some of them such as infrastructure, healthcare, national defense, education, electricity, etc. These goods and services are often referred to as public goods because they are made available to the public and are usually nonexcludable and nonrivalrous.
There are also instances where public goods are made available by private companies or the efforts of individual philanthropists. As stated earlier, what is considered important is that the good brings benefits to the members of society, it is nonrivalrous and nonexcludable. Before we look at various public good examples, let us understand what public goods are.
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What is a public good?
A public good is an economic term that is used to refer to materials, products, or services which are commonly available to anyone in a particular society. These are generally administered by the government and are usually paid for by the citizens through the taxes they pay. Two key features of public goods are that they are nonexcludable and nonrivalrous; this means that they are accessible to everyone and their current usage does not diminish their availability for future use.
The availability of public goods is often considered essential to the smooth and effective functioning of society. This is because the unavailability of certain public goods such as national defense could pose great challenges to everyday living. Irrespective of whether an individual uses a public good or not, their taxes usually aid with its provision. By being non-excludable, it means that no individual or group of individuals can be excluded from using a public good. Its nonrivalrous feature means that its use by one person does not cause a reduction in the public good or stop another person from using it. Thus, public goods are available to everyone within the society where it is available.
Public goods are mostly connected with externalities and the free rider problem. Externalities are the indirect impacts; positive or negative that third party experiences as a result of the economic activities carried out by another person. Positive externalities are very common with public goods, in fact, the free rider problem mainly arises due to the positive externalities associated with public goods. For instance, when street lights are provided on the streets, everyone in the community benefits from the illumination it provides and no one can be excluded from using it. Furthermore, its use by an individual does not stop another individual from using it.
The negative externalities associated with public goods equally have far-reaching effects on society. For instance, if a factory operates in a particular place and does not take proactive measures in handling the waste they generate, the could cause environmental pollution. If this occurs, other members of the community get affected by the polluted environment even though they did not cause the pollution. The free rider problem arises when individuals who do not directly pay for the provision of certain materials, products, or services still have access to it to the detriment of other individuals to pay for its provision.
For instance, since the infrastructure is generally made available through taxpayer’s money, an individual who evades paying taxes but lives in a community with adequate infrastructure will still enjoy and have access to public goods at the detriment of other members of the society whose taxes cater for the provision of those infrastructures. In this scenario, if more people do not pay their taxes, it could lead to underproduction of the necessary infrastructure and overuse of the one that is available since the available taxes will not be sufficient to effectively cater to all members of society due to the tax evasion of some individuals.
It is important to note that although most public goods are mostly provided by the government through taxes, markets could also produce public goods. For instance, before the advent of cable TV, podcasts, and other streaming services for radio and television, individuals living in a society do not have to pay to watch TV or listen to the radio. They only need to have a Tv or radio set and tune in to a particular frequency to watch or listen to a particular channel. In this instance, the television or radio network is both nonexcludable and nonrivalrous. It is nonexcludable because once a broadcast begins, anyone can tune in.
It is nonrivalrous because a lot of people can watch or listen to a channel at the same time. Before subscriptions became common, most Tv and radio stations made their money solely through the advertisements of products or services. Additionally, some public goods are provided at no charge but individuals have to pay for additional services. For instance, a zoo or a public park might have free entry but people may have to pay for parking spaces, use the grounds for picnics, weddings or birthday parties, etc.
Public good examples
- Clean air
- Flood defense
- Public schools
- Rule of law
- Public television
- Public parks
- Neighborhood watch
- Information and statistics
- Fire service
- Herd immunity
- Road signs
- Public libraries
- Drinking water
- Public zoos and aquariums
- Street lights
- National Defense
- Sewage system
The examples of public goods vary based on how the term is viewed, however, listed above are certain commodities and services that are generally considered public good examples. Although infrastructure such as crosswalks, roads, bridges, and sidewalks are considered public goods, they are not fully nonexcludable and nonrivalrous. This is because although anyone may use them, congestion could arise when more people than they were built for, try to use them at the same time. This can be commonly seen in cases of traffic jams during rush hours. Furthermore, since the value of these infrastructures can diminish as more people use them, they are often classified as quasi-public goods.
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Categories of the public good examples
- Education and knowledge
- Emergency services
The public goods that were earlier listed can be grouped into these five broad categories
Education and knowledge
In most countries, the government provides education to its citizens. This is usually done to aid citizens in becoming productive members of society. Hence, basic education is made as accessible and inexpensive as possible. Additional resources such as public libraries further aid in the educational process. Publicly available information such as those obtained through state media houses or history is also a public good example that aids the knowledge base of individuals within a given society. Educational services such as those offered by private schools and tutors are not considered public goods due to the fact that they are accessible to only a select group of people.
Other contributors to the educational and knowledge public good include scientific developments, educational community events, and activities. More often than not, the free sharing of information aids the development and creation of more valuable resources that can be beneficial to the whole community. For instance, a lot of inventions that began during the industrial revolution were largely due to the information available to most of those inventors coupled with their ingenuity and creativity. Further improvements in those inventions occurred over the years because information on the inventions where readily available for others to improve on.
This includes access to the fire service during a fire outbreak or an ambulance in case of a health emergency. In the case of a fire outbreak, if the fire is not curtailed effectively and on time, it could lead to the devastation of several properties and possibly the loss of lives too. Hence the provision of such emergency service is beneficial to the whole community and aids in strengthening the community too.
Certain resources that are an inherent part of the environment can be considered as public good examples since one person’s use does not restrict another person’s use and they remain generally unrestricted. One of such is the air we breathe. As long as the environment we live in is not polluted, we will all have equal access to clean air. In an event where the air is polluted, everyone within the vicinity will be equally affected by the polluted air.
Some other inherent parts of the environment such as the ozone layer, the biodiversity in the flora and fauna as well as waterbodies such as streams, lakes, and the open ocean could be considered public goods. However, varying degrees of human intervention as has been seen by global warming could impact these parts of the environment leading to negative externalities.
In the aspect of health, a lot of countries provide certain services to their citizens. The recent pandemic that hit the world between 2019 to 2020 is one instance that showed how most countries provide free vaccines to their citizens to help curtail the spread and further damages that sprang up from the pandemic. Such public health measures often protect all members of society without distinction and are equally accessible to all. This further aids in improving the overall health of the country.
Other public health initiatives such as health talks, commercials, pamphlets, and other media that offer information on health-related matters are also commonly offered by the government. This is done to increase public awareness of certain diseases, provide clarity of helpful healthy habits such as exercising and being well hydrated, and all other initiatives that boost public health. All these are usually provided to the populace through the taxes that individuals pay as opposed to having to charge individuals for the services received.
Another category of a public good is the infrastructure that is available within a locality. The public good examples that fall in this category include pipe-borne water, sewage system, road networks, street lights, sidewalks, bridges, and crosswalks. As with other public goods, these are available for use by everyone within the community. The infrastructure is often made available through taxpayer money and the citizens expect the government provides and maintain these infrastructures.
This encompasses all efforts, initiatives, and groups geared toward providing protection and safety to residents of a community, state, region, or country. In most instances, it includes national defense, neighborhood watch, rule of law, etc. The security of a nation is one of the most important public goods. This is because the level of security or insecurity of a nation has a lot of effect on all other facets of the nation. Hence, most countries allocate hefty sums to ensure the security of their nation is not tampered with.
Public good examples include air, water, national defense, public schools, public recreational parks, etc. Although the commodities and services that are considered public goods may vary from one region to another, economists generally agree that for a good to be classified as a public good, it must meet certain criteria. This criterion includes providing social benefits, being widely available, and generally undepletable with use. In some cases, public goods are not fully widely available and undepletable as their use may require some nominal costs to the user and might get considerably reduced if not used sustainably.
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