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The free rider problem of public goods

Private companies find it difficult to produce public goods. If a good or service is nonexcludable, like national defense, so that it is impossible or very costly to exclude people from using this good or service, then how can a firm charge people for it?

Visit this website to read about a connection between free riders and “bad music.”

When individuals make decisions about buying a public good, a free rider    problem can arise, in which people have an incentive to let others pay for the public good and then to “free ride” on the purchases of others. The free rider problem can be expressed in terms of the prisoner’s dilemma game, which is discussed as a representation of oligopoly in Monopolistic Competition and Oligopoly . Say that two people are thinking about contributing to a public good: Rachel and Samuel. When either of them contributes to a public good, such as a local fire department, their personal cost of doing so is $4 and the social benefit of that person’s contribution is $6. Because society’s benefit of $6 is greater than the cost of $4, the investment is a good idea for society as a whole. The problem is that, while Rachel and Samuel pay for the entire cost of their contribution to the public good, they receive only half of the benefit, because the benefit of the public good is divided equally among the members of society. This sets up the prisoner’s dilemma illustrated in [link] .

Contributing to a public good as a prisoner’s dilemma
Samuel (S) Contribute Samuel (S) Do Not Contribute
Rachel (R) Contribute R pays $4, receives $6, net gain +$2
S pays $4, receives $6, net gain +$2
R pays $4, receives $3, net gain –$1
S pays $0, receives $3, net gain +$3
Rachel (R) Do Not Contribute R pays $0, receives $3, net gain +$3
S pays $4, receives $3, net gain –$1
R pays $0, receives $0
S pays $0, receives $0

If neither Rachel nor Samuel contributes to the public good, then there are no costs and no benefits of the public good. Suppose, however, that only Rachel contributes, while Samuel does not. Rachel incurs a cost of $4, but receives only $3 of benefit (half of the total $6 of benefit to society), while Samuel incurs no cost, and yet he also receives $3 of benefit. In this outcome, Rachel actually loses $1 while Samuel gains $3. A similar outcome, albeit with roles reversed, would occur if Samuel had contributed, but Rachel had not. Finally, if both parties contribute, then each incurs a cost of $4 and each receives $6 of benefit (half of the total $12 benefit to society). There is a dilemma with the Prisoner’s Dilemma, though. See the Work it Out feature.

The problem with the prisoner’s dilemma

The difficulty with the prisoner’s dilemma arises as each person thinks through his or her strategic choices.

Step 1. Rachel reasons in this way: If Samuel does not contribute, then I would be a fool to contribute. However, if Samuel does contribute, then I can come out ahead by not contributing.

Step 2. Either way, I should choose not to contribute, and instead hope that I can be a free rider who uses the public good paid for by Samuel.

Step 3. Samuel reasons the same way about Rachel.

Step 4. When both people reason in that way, the public good never gets built, and there is no movement to the option where everyone cooperates—which is actually best for all parties.

Questions & Answers

what are some characteristics of monopoly market
Obeng Reply
explicit cost is seen as a total experiences in the business or the salary (wages) that a firm pay to employee.
Idagu Reply
what is price elasticity
Fosua
...
krishna
economics is known to be the field
John Reply
what is monopoly
Peter Reply
what is taxation
Peter
why do monopoly make excess profit in both long run and short run
Adeola Reply
because monopoly have no competitor on the market and they are price makers,therefore,they can easily increase the princes and produce small quantity of goods but still consumers will still buy....
Kennedy
how to identify a perfect market graph
Adeola Reply
what is the investment
jimmy
investment is a money u used to the business
Mohamed
investment is the purchase of good that are not consumed today but are used in the future to create wealth.
Amina
investment is the good that are not consumed
Fosua
What is supply
Fosua
 Supply represents how much the market can offer.
Yusif
what is the effect of scarce resources on producers
Phindu Reply
what is economic
Charles Reply
what are the type of economic
Charles
macroeconomics,microeconomics,positive economics and negative economics
Gladys
what are the factors of production
Gladys
process of production
Mutia
Basically factors of production are four (4) namely: 1. Entrepreneur 2. Capital 3. Labour and; 4. Land but there has been a new argument to include an addition one to the the numbers to 5 which is "Technology"
Elisha
what is land as a factor of production
Gladys
what is Economic
Abu
economics is how individuals bussiness and governments make the best decisions to get what they want and how these choices interact in the market
Nandisha
Economics as a social science, which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means, which have alternative uses.
Yhaar
Economics is a science which study human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means
John
Economics is a social sciences which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce mean, which have alternative uses.....
Pintu
how will a country's population be equal to it's labour force
Hope Reply
what is the meaning of ppf
Obeng Reply
Production Possibility Frontier
Igbekele
What is Economic
Governor Reply
economic
Nwosu
Economics is the social science that deals with the unlimited human wants in the face of scarce (limited in supply) resources.
Azka
what is market
Gift Reply
marker is the interaction of buying and selling
David
market refers to the interaction of the processes of buying and selling of commodities between the buyer and the seller.
stephen
market is a place where two parties gather to facilitate exchange of goods and services.
Yhaar
what are some good sources of information to find trends in various Industries
James
how do on know that marketing is going on
Mutia
what is consumption
Raj
Using revenue
Prince
What is stock market
Prince
what is inadequate supply of labour
Fosua
What are the marmet function
Odirile Reply
price elasticity of demand is the degree of responsiveness of a quantity demanded to the change in price of the commodity in question.
Gladys Reply
What does elasticity mean
Prince
Elasticity means change in demand with the change in price. It is elastic if the demand changes with the price change whereas it is inelastic if the demand is not affected due to change in price
Devesh
Okay
Olatunde
meaning
KP
okay
Binta
I have a question
Binta
what is the importance of learning economics?
Thelma Reply
it helps to make the correct choice
Gladys
it helps firm to produce products that will bring more profit
Gladys

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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