The G Word with Adam Conover – GPS as a Public Good

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.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Weather Forecasts as a Public Good

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.

The G Word with Adam Conover – Weather Forecasts as a Club 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.

Futurama — A Can of Old Fish

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!

The Simpsons — PBS Free Riders

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:

Gangs of New York — Fire Departments

Instead of being served by a single public fire department, the area has regional brigades of volunteer firemen who are more focused fighting each other rather than putting out the fires. As the brigades fight for the right to put out the fire, the building burns and looters steal what they can.

Thanks to James Gordon from Elbert County Comprehensive High School for the clip suggestion and description!

Super Troopers — Who Owns the Beach

 

A group of enlightened drivers ponder the ownership of a beach. Beaches are typically public property, but in some areas they may be private land. One of the issues of beach ownership is determining who’s liable for an injury. A lack of clear property rights makes it an interesting argument for public/private ownership of areas.

Downsizing — Private vs Social Perspective

 

 

A scientist has created a way to solve overpopulation: shrinking people down to a fraction of their size and having them live in small communities. The movie shows a man (Matt Damon) at a company lecture and consulting with a realtor for a home in a small community. The interaction between the two demonstrates the personal and social tradeoffs of a positive externality. The family shrinking themselves down is doing it for personal reasons, namely to save on living expenses and to no longer work, but there are social benefits at play as well. Having everyone shrink to a fraction of their size can help alleviate overpopulation and reduce human waste.

Thanks to Amanda Yaya for the suggestion

National Science Foundation — Tragedy of the Commons

 

The tragedy of the commons are predictable outcomes when looking at grazing lanes, highways, fisheries, and forests. This quick video from the National Science Foundation is a short introduction to the issues that plague common resources. The ending portion of the video paints the tragedy in a much broader light by highlighting the growing need to preserve nature as populations continue to grow.

John Stossel — Tragedy of the Commons

In this Stossel in the Classroom segment, Stossel analyzes the issues around common resources and public goods. In the opening interview, many people believe public versions of items are better and often cite the lack of a price as the main reason for selecting that over a private item. The same people are quick to point out that a public toilet doesn’t have the same connotation because people overuse it and don’t take care of the resources because no one owns it.

This clips is beneficial to talk about how tragedy of the commons can be overcome by assigning property rights to a business and turning it into a private good.

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