Public Goods as Obligatory Bridges between the Public and the Private

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In the context of economics, the distinction between ‘the public’ and ‘the private’ has been paralleled with the distinction of ‘public policy’ on the one hand and the ‘private market’ on the other hand. Even though both spheres intermingle at some point, the first is the domain of government, the second is the domain of market laws. This contribution argues that public goods do not only undermine that distinction, but they also support an alternative interpretation of the private-public line. A thorough discussion of public goods redefines the relationship of public and private and portrays public goods as bridges between both spheres.

The contribution starts with the classical definition of public goods as items that are non-excludable and non-rival with respect to potential profiteers. The paper then shifts the focus to the normative side of public goods. Precisely because of their characteristics as non-exclusive goods, these items are able to fulfil promises of the constitutional state. They enhance social inclusion, they serve the public by generating spaces of civilized interaction, and they even enhance the sense of shared citizenship. A focus on what has been termed ‘central public goods’ reveals that public goods serve important claims of social justice. After having explained why public goods should also be regarded as an important ingredient in the economic performance of the nation state, three bridging functions of public goods are apparent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387 - 405
Number of pages19
JournalPhilosophical Papers
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 603116 Political philosophy
  • 603119 Social philosophy


  • public goods
  • economics

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