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4 - Inherently Public Goods

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 February 2024

Avihay Dorfman
Affiliation:
Tel-Aviv University
Alon Harel
Affiliation:
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Summary

The privatization of government functions has given rise to instrumental questions concerning the execution of these functions. Proponents often hail the efficiency of private institutions, while opponents often speak of the accountability of public institutions. This chapter challenges the instrumentalist terms of this debate. It establishes that there are principled, noninstrumentalist arguments against the privatization of certain goods. More particularly, it argues that there are goods that are “inherently public,” namely that they cannot be provided by private entities, even in principle.

The chapter also maintains that to count as an act of the state, the person who provides the good (the key case studies are inflicting criminal punishment and waging wars) must be a public official. To defend this latter position, the chapter develops an abstract account of public officials as agents who defer to the state’s judgments.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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