Eric Helland, guest-blogging over at Marginal Revolution, posts on whether or not GPS is a good candidate as a public good. Like Eric’s colleague, I grapple with the public good concept (as Mike mentioned earlier this morning) and share the misgivings Eric reports. For me the question boils down to the degree of rivalry in consumption, and how big the externalities that are created are at the margin. The exclusion is almost always a choice, not an immutable characteristic, so on that dimension I fully agree with Eric’s colleague.
Here’s a thought: why couldn’t private agents build a GPS network? There’s nothing technologically preventing such a network from being excludable. And if they crank up the price to use it, why not lease satellite space from others to put up a parallel network? Is that contestabilitly sufficient to overcome the public good problem? So if GPS users have to pay to use the GPS network, then wouldn’t some pricing strategies evolve, like either build a license fee into the cost of the GPS device, or have subscription services? And what if some people want it one way and some want it another way? If there’s a way to do that, then it lessens the public good aspects of the network considerably.
Around my house, when we resort to the internet to answer questions like “What was the name of that movie last year with William H. Macy?” or “Who recorded ‘Oh Carolina’ before Shaggy did?”, we call it “consulting the Oracle.”
Consulting the Oracle usually means Google, but for movie specific information I usually go straight to the IMDB. A cool story on the IMDB can be found online courtesy of the LA Weekly.
Music questions sometimes go to Allmusic, but they’ve revamped the website and I don’t like the new look. But if you just have to know whether Jimmy Cliff ever recorded “Rivers of Babylon,” it is one place to look.
The Washington Post reports an interesting story about efforts to restore electric power services in Iraq. The following paragraph caught my eye:
Though Iraq has more power than it did before the war, Baghdad has suffered. The capital had a steady and sufficient flow of electricity under President Saddam Hussein, who supplied the capital at the expense of the rest of the country.
What’s that? Baghdad had more reliable electric service than the rest of the country under Saddam Hussein? Haven’t we been told that reliability is a public good? A public good is non-rival in consumption and non-excludable in distribution. So how is it that some could get more of this public good, and others less….
Clearly, network reliability is not a pure public good in the Samuelsonian sense of the term. But what kind of good is it? Some of Lynne’s posting on the topic are here and here.