Public Goods from Public Agencies

I had a go at this topic here but wanted to just make the note here that, rather late in the day, going through old Slashdot newsletters, I found this link to the BBC Open Source project.

A Good Thing methinks. There should be more of it.

I particularly liked this para.

For the BBC, open source software development is an extension of our Public Service remit. Releasing open source software helps our audience get additional value from the work they’ve funded, and also get tools for free that they couldn’t get any other way. It also allows people outside the BBC to extend projects in such a way that may in future be used in the BBC.

Of course in principle one should charge all public institutions with the job of optimising national welfare. In practice that’s far too vague a remit. So it makes sense for the BBC to relate it’s remit back to itself.

Still, I think it is at least worth the BBC keeping in mind the greater public good of the UK. And then there should be some thought given to whether there are any practicable and sensible ways of pointing institutions towards international good – as well as national good. The issue of course is how to operationalise things. It can’t do much harm, and could do quite a lot of good to have some shadow trading of favours between like organisations. Thus for instance, in the software suite Open Office one educational authority could take responsibility for one feature, another for another feature and so on around the world. This is pretty much the way it works now, but public organisations might be able to become a useful part of this eco-system.

The ABC and BBC could have discussions on division of labour in the production of public goods. The authors of Imagining Australia suggest that the BBC, the ABC and the CBC (in Canada) merge. I’m not sure how it would work, and whether that might be a bit heavy handed, but we should certainly be thinking more about optimising the production of public goods. We should always have had a broader focus than we did in the last twenty years which focussed almost exclusively on optimising the productoin and consumption of private goods. But the advent of the internet makes public goods more important than they were two decades ago and provides more exciting opportunities. So that further strengthens the case.

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2024 years ago

I don’t know if it is a stated policy, but many US Government funded scienfitic projects that produce software make it freely available. This is a good thing. A great example is NIH Image (now called ImageJ), which is available here:

I am sure there are others, I just can’t recall any off the top of my head.



derrida derider
derrida derider
2024 years ago

I understand that US government publications are generally free of copyright – I’d think this would extend to software too.

After intensive lobbying by big pharma, in the 1970’s Congress made it possible to privately patent drugs discovered by government funded research. This was a public policy disaster which goes some way to explain the excess profits made by these companies today at US consumers’ expense.

kyan gadac
kyan gadac
2024 years ago

The EU is actively distributing the ubuntu (linux for human beings) operating system. Email them and they’ll send you any number of CD’s.
If you regard public goods as ‘reproductive’ goods then the way to optimize these is by ensuring that they have multiple uses. Schools that double as meeting places, nursing homes as creches, social security as an economic lever. etc.
Reproductive work is cyclical, time compulsory and necessarily social. This distinguishes it from the pin factory.
As Derrida observes the big issue is how to prevent the ‘private gain, public pain’ syndrome.

Consider for instance, the consequences of road transport using heavy vehicles. In W.A. the Court Government removed the last vestiges of a OD route system and allowed multiple axle vehicles to go anywhere. Similarly, heavy road transport for woodchips(say)is prefered by private contractors because the government is forced to pick up the tab for maintaining the roads by other road users.

Roads are a reproductive asset and constrained by the characteristics outlined above. The immediate repair of damage because roads are ‘time compulsory’ assets, means that the trucking companies and the woodchip companies have the government over a barrel and never get to pay for the true cost of their use of a public asset.

The real problem is a conceptual one – to do with a failure to appreciate that economic activity is two dimensional both productive and reproductive. We understand the rules for the former but not the latter.

Bob McDonald
Bob McDonald
2024 years ago

Hi, I was wondering if you would be interested in this article

In Australia there are several attempts at establishing markets to trade biodiversity. With native vegetation in Victoria botanists have created maps for each bioregion, as they see them, and have given that region a score. So for an area with less than 30% of its original vegetation all its species are considered vulnerable and a survey before approval is required.

If this area has significant plants their significance is graded and the ‘clearer’ will be required to contract the management of offsetting vegetation elsewhere in the region.

For large companies this is manor from heaven. They can clear anything they like as long as the buy a patch of bush to match it. Once they have a patch of bush they can then charge other companies for its maintenance. For the system to function bush needs to be cleared to be protected &&*^%##@%#??

Because ‘market forces’ analysis and practice is based on a supply and demand curve the economic incentive is to reduce the total amount of ‘biodiverse’ vegetation with the value of that remaining bush rising faster as it gets rarer. We will end up with dry creeks and tortured paddocks of dwarf plants with regional extinctions of mammals, birds and other fauna. Botanists care little about mammals and other fauna, especially those that eat ‘their’ plants.

Already landowners are already clearing land to avoid this economic burden, as has happened so many times before in recent Australian history. It is ironic that the attempts to stop large scale land clearing for agriculture have lead to the fastest rates of clearing in in the history of many districts.

This system needs enforcement forever and simple arithmetic will show that the cost of enforcement will eventually be greater than the value of the resource.

This approach to using market forces relies on reducing ecological function to simple mathematic relationships that at are reductionist.

Regrowth on a paddock, with no fauna, little structure and no trees can score higher excellent bush with older simpler forests/grasslands that do not display the biodiversity or recently cleared or regrown forests.

The area units chosen are historical maps of plant distribution – not catchments. So an entire catchment could be cleared in exchange for the preservation of remnants across other areas. The age forest trees is only expressed in tree diameters – when eucalypts can be 30 or 300 years old and be of the same size – depending on soil or conditions. There is actually an incentive to clear for the sake of clearing to make these ‘assetts’ increasingly valuable.

The burden of this native vegetation trading system has fallen on older retired farmers on small blocks. Where this land has regrown for as little as a decade the agricultural value is totally lost when the land cannot be cleared and they have to ‘wait’ for someone to pay them to maintain it in a yet to be created trading market. They simply want to sell it and retire – not be burdened with looking after bush for their remaining years – or paying someone to do it.

As the value of something increases faster than it rate of decline the incentive is to reduce – further – the total amount of bush.

The economic beneficiaries of maintaining bush – the rest of us who eat food, drink water drawn from catchments, catch and eat fish still have no way of investing in what we require to maintain our resources. We buy the food but pay the farmer nothing for fencing off bush and streamsides. Farmers that do have to carry the costs for the rest of us.

Surely it would be simply to pay for bush/streamside vegetation by its age, nature (% Indigenous) and extent while we were buying our food?

To regulate and tax farmers – and fishermen – is to ignore those that profit most from agriculture and fisheries, the wholesalers and retailers and of course the public who this entire system is meant to serve.

I thought we needed a system that produced more food for a better price not less for more.

Cheers Bob McDonald