Monday, August 06, 2007

Many "public goods" are now privately-produced

Almost all so-called "public goods" can now be done or provided by the private sector. Why?

Consider many of those gated, private villages. So-called public goods like streetlight traffic, garbage collection, road & drainage construction/maintenance, street lighting, peace and order, school, church, primary health care, fire fighting equipment, multipurpose hall, basketball court, open garden, children's playground, etc., are produced by the private sector. Residents and homeowners pay an annual association dues (based on per sq.m. lot area), plus many other fees (car sticker, IDs for househelpers and drivers, rental of village clubhouse, basketball court, etc.), which are essentially like taxes. The only difference is that the residents pay this "tax" to the homeowner association, their "local government" for the village. That is why, LGUs' collection of real property tax (RPT) for residents of those gated villages for zero service within the village can be considered as plain extortion.

Ok, how about services outside the gates of those villages? The Ayalas in the Philippines built underground passes for people; or elevated walkways for people in makati's CBD, at zero cost to people, whether in taxes or "pay upon entry" like tollroads. The Ayalas make money to compensate for the expenses of those "positive externalities" to people including the "free riders" by earning revenues from ads posted on those elevated walkways or underground passes/tunnels for people.

Or SM Malls (other malls) build free pedestrian overpasses for people to cross the streets up to their malls. They'd also deputize their private security guards to conduct traffic -- at zero cost to taxpayers -- in public roads near their malls.

Other examples often cited that should remain in government hands -- broadcasting TV, street lights, peace and order, etc. Privately-owned TV networks are more efficient, more informative, to people than government-owned TV stations. The former costs zero from taxpayers, the latter cost them a lot from endless subsidies and contracts.

What about enforcement of contracts and fulfilment of promises between/among people? All referees in basketball and soccer, also baseball umpires, the guys who impose the rules of the game, are private individuals. They are not employees of the city hall or of the national government's sports commission or olympic committee. Conflct among neighbors in a village are first resolved by the village association. Like when a neighbor complains about loud parties or barking of dogs by his neighbor.

It is only when people will not respect those private referees, private settlers of dispute, that people elevate their case/s to government justice bodies like the courts, the barangay, etc. In which case, judicial courts can remain in government.

I have argued earlier why education should be "parental responsibility", not "government responsibility". Poverty alleviation should also be "personal responsibility", not "government responsibility." For instance, after working for 5 years straight abroad and bringin home P3M or more in cash, one can be expected to be well-off already. But personal irresponsibility can easily turn that money into ashes and nothing with mindless spending and getting into trouble.
Drink and party everyday, have mistresses left and right, go into casinos, buy expensive appliances, harm or shoot someone when he got drunk. All those money can evaporate in a short while, while leading oneself into prison, all for acts of personal irresponsibility.

So, what's left for government's "public goods"? Very little in fact. And so, government's confiscation of money and savings have very little justification, if at all. But many guys who are "poverty fighters" like government personnel and foreign aid institutions, will never fail to remind us how lousy a society can be if we leave people to be responsible for themselves. That is why we have to fork out money from our pockets to pay them and their travels and they will fight poverty "in our behalf".

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