The Public Good

David Dollar: I think tha's a great question. I do think . . . As I've said,I think property rights in connection to a large market create good incentives to produce, but that's  primarily to produce what we call private goods. So to make food, or cell phones, or televisions, or film, all of which can be consumed by individuals; but capitalism is not a good system for taking care of public goods. And I think in this current era we've got more and more countries that are buying into that notion of property rights and free trade. So the global economy is growing faster than it has for a long time, and that's good for raising living standards and reducing poverty; but it also creates some new problems. Because there are global issues that cannot easily be dealt with just by the capitalist system itself. I think the most important is the global environment, and I'm particularly concerned about the issue of global warming. So we're in a pretty nice situation now where a lot of developing countries are growing well, creating jobs and lifting people out of poverty which is great; but now we have this challenge of collective action. How do we preserve the global commons, and how do we take care of the earth basically so that this development can be sustainable? And there I think, the solution in simple terms . . . the solution there is not property rights. The solution there is collective action. And we are in a situation where you've got all these different countries in the world. We don't really have a system of global government. We've got a United Nations which is doing its best to deal with security issues, but it's not really global government. We don't really have any kind of global framework for managing the global environment. We've got the Kyoto Protocol to begin to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, but that's very partial. It only involves commitments from a small number of countries. You've  got big players like the U.S. that have not signed up, and all the developing countries were exempt. So I think getting the collective action to . . . The general issue is the collective action to produce public goods. And I think the best example to make this concrete is the whole issue of preserving the global environment, including greenhouse gases and global warming. I think the other obvious one is in the health field. The general issue here is there are things that are really public goods in the sense that if a new communicable disease develops . . . If avian influenza develops as a human disease that can spread, alright, then that's a global public concern. You can have a global health epidemic of different types. So that's another good example where you really need countries to cooperate to set up rules about what happens when diseases develop. How do you investigate these? How do you quarantine people? And I think all due respect to the world health organization, I don't think we have a strong global regime for managing these global public health issues. So I think the global environmental issues are the most obvious lack in the current world. And then I think dealing with global health issues is the second area of obvious concern.

Recorded on: 7/3/07



Does capitalism take the communal interest into account?

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