Electric Power In Iraq; More On Network Reliability

Michael Giberson

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.

2 thoughts on “Electric Power In Iraq; More On Network Reliability

  1. Clearly the first reality is that the boundaries of the “public” must be defined. Within Baghdad, the good was truly public, but as between nations, Iraq’s cities had their own public good networks. For non-rival and non-excludable to apply, you don’t necesarily have to overcome a free rider issue (people are paying for what they use with electricity), but you do have to support both equitable entitlement (everyone having an equal right to the good) and sufficient capacity within the entitled zone. Under Saddam, neither of those conditions was met; Saddam was more entitled to electricity than anyone else and he needed only enough power to support those entities necessary to his government and himself. The terms surrounding the distribution of power necessitating network reliability make such a public good, but if those terms are not in place, then classification as such is not inherent in the good itself.

  2. I guess Orwell was right. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

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