The Market or the Public Domain? Global Governance and the Asymmetry of Power

By Daniel Drache | Go to book overview

10

Public goods

Taking the concept to the twenty-first century

Inge Kaul *

The past decades have witnessed major shifts in the boundaries between what is perceived as public and private. Economic liberalization and privatization have allowed markets to expand and integrate across national borders. In ever-larger numbers private corporations have gone public, i.e. floated shares on stock markets. Government programmes have been subjected to marketization, such as outsourcing of service provision. There are calls for public agents themselves to be more public, transparent and accountable. Labour and environmental policies of private firms can no longer be kept secret behind closed boardroom doors. The public, people at large, as consumers and investors, insists on knowing to what production principles companies adhere. Yet we also see signs of companies' self-regulation. Many now want to be good corporate citizens with a concern for the public welfare. Clearly, the lines between private and public have become blurred.

Assessments of these trends vary widely. Some analysts applaud the greater freedom granted to the invisible hand (Micklethwait and Wooldridge 2000). Others fear we are headed towards ruthless, property owner and shareholder-driven 'turbo-capitalism' (Luttwak 1999). And yet others waiver, recognizing in the present economic situation both risks and opportunities for all. As Giddens and Hutton (2000:214) conclude, optimists and pessimists write about the current trends with equal fervour. They can probably do so, because they share the same preoccupation: getting the balance right between markets and states. Yet markets and states are mere mechanisms for the provision of goods. Sometimes one does a better job and sometimes the other. It all depends in the end on the basket of goods (and services) one has in mind. There is little, if any, debate in the present literature about the right balance between private and public goods.

Yet we all require for our well-being private goods as well as public goods - private goods such as bread, butter, shoes, or a house, and public goods such as law and order, street signs, an intact ozone layer, institutions to facilitate the efficient functioning of markets, or a healthy environment. Private goods and public goods cannot necessarily be equated with markets and states, respectively. Thus the key question is not how much market or state but rather what mix of private goods and public goods to aim at in order to realize our goals, be

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