The global positioning system (GPS) was originally developed for military purposes but has been made available to private companies since 2000. Allowing private companies to build new products and services using this technology has resulted in a massive increase in technological advancement in the US that provides significantly more economic benefit than the cost of operating the GPS system. Estimates place the value of GPS at $1.4 trillion from 1980 to 2019, but the federal government spends relatively little to operate the system.
Public goods are defined as products that are nonrival and nonexcludable, like the global position system (GPS) operated by the US federal government. The nonrival nature means that it isn’t costly for the government to provide the service to an additional user and the nonexcludability component means that anyone can access that service even if they don’t pay taxes to support the service. While GPS was initially developed for military purposes, the government has made the technology available for anyone with a GPS received and companies have created new products and services based on that technology.
Public goods are defined as products that are nonrival and nonexcludable, like weather forecasts in the United States. The nonrival nature means that it isn’t costly for the government to provide the service to an additional user and the non-excludability component means that anyone can access that service even if they haven’t paid for it. Weather forecasts were traditionally provided as a public good, but some companies have been working to change the excludability criterion to turn weather forecasts into an artificially scarce good.
Club goods, also known as artificially scarce goods, are defined as products that are nonrival, but excludable. Previously, weather forecasts were widely available to everyone, even people who didn’t pay for the information, but private companies have limited the National Weather Service’s ability to provide that information. These private companies still use the data from the NWS, so it doesn’t cost the company to provide service to one more user (nonrival), however, they can withhold that information from people who don’t pay for the premium experience (excludable). Club goods create a deadweight loss to society because the price of the product is greater than the cost of production.
Whenever an action creates a negative externality, the private individual allocates too many resources toward the production of that item. This happens because the producer is focused on their own profit maximization problem and is not accounting for any external costs associated with production. When it comes to meat packing or factory farming, producers don’t take into account the external costs of pollution or the potential risk of bacterial infection. Regulating such industries can mandate that firms take into account the social costs of production rather than the private cost of production.
Larry David is adamant about the unwritten rule of appetizer allotment. In this scene, Richard Lewis is also eating “too much” of the hummus that they have ordered to share. The “unwritten rule” is that the dish should be split evenly among the diners, but there is a strong personal incentive to eat more than your share. In a sense, this is similar to the tragedy of the commons. While it’s in the best interest of the group to split the resource fairly, some people may try to take advantage of the situation.
Thanks to Alex Marsella for the clip recommendation!
Individuals often make decisions that are in their own best interest, and often disregard the impact they may have on other people. Whenever this happens, individuals are creating an externality. Someone else either benefits or is harmed by that outcome. In the case of someone putting on deodorant, that could have spillover benefits from people getting to smell a “fresh scent.” If too much is applied, it could annoy others are turn to a negative externality.
This Turkish Airways ad shows the value of network externalities to a market. A network effect occurs when the value of a product or service depends on the number of users. Network effects are typically positive, such that the more people using the product, the more valuable the product becomes. Airlines are an example of network effects, as the ad points out, because the more places they fly, the more valuable the flights are to the people purchasing the tickets.
The gang heads to get some pizza and Fry wants his friends to experience anchovies, a type of small, salted fish. It turns out that these small fish were overfished and the population collapsed. Zoidberg even mentions how sorry he was that his people kept consuming them because they didn’t realize they were a common resource, subject to the tragedy of the commons.
Fry is incredibly rich, and wishes he could bring them back. He at first notes that even incredibly wealthy people aren’t able to purchase everything. At an auction, he finds that there is exactly one can left in the known universe and decides to bid all of his money for the “can of old fish”
While we normally wouldn’t pass judgement on someone’s preferences, it’s hard not to believe that this could a good example of a winner’s curse. Fry’s willingness to pay for the can of fish may not be $50 million, but the utility from winning the auction could be worth that.
Thanks to Jessica Pritchard for the clip suggestion!
Homer has found a new British show on PBS and he’s really loving it, but then they interrupt his show to ask for money. Betty White is a guest during the telethon and mentions that anyone who watches even a second of PBS and doesn’t donate is equivalent to a thief.
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is a nonprofit American public television show. While the channel focuses primarily on educational programming, it relies on donations from viewers to help support its budget. PBS would be considered an example of a public good since it is nonrival and nonexcludable. One of the problems with public goods is that it is subject to underprovision because of free riders, like Homer, who consume the service but don’t contribute to its production.
Thanks to Tom Flesher for the recommendation on Twitter: