Government

Lighthouses, Autopsies And The Federal Budget

This is a public good.

This is a public good. Storm Crypt/Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Storm Crypt/Flickr

What should the government pay for?

On today's Planet Money, we pose that question to Charlie Wheelan, author of the book Naked Economics, and one-time Congressional candidate. (He lost).

He gives us the econ 101 answer: The government should definitely pay for something if it's a public good, which Charlie defines as ...

something that we all need that will make our lives better, but the market will not and cannot provide

The textbook example is a lighthouse. Why should any given sea captain pay for a lighthouse? As Wheelan says, if somebody refuses to pay, we can't say, "Close your eyes when you sail past this rocky point."

Other examples of public goods include national defense and autopsies. Everyone benefits from the medical knowledge autopsies provide, but it's not really in any individual's interest to pay for an autopsy.

Somehow, this fact leads us to call 1-800-AUTOPSY.

Note: Today's podcast originally aired in 2010. Subscribe to the podcast. Music: Alabama Shakes' "Hold On." Find us: Twitter/ Facebook/ Spotify.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.