The voluntary provision of public goods

Some people voluntarily provide public goods while others take a free ride. Are the providers acting rationally? Should they instead follow the example of the free-rider? What are the rational and moral justifications for voluntary provision? This dissertation examines five ways to justify voluntary provision: rational prudence, social norms, group agency, fairness, and altruism. It suggests that altruism provides the best possible defense. Considerations of fairness may also provide a justification in some circumstances, but generally this argument is vulnerable to the objection that free-riding is often a legitimate way of protecting oneself from exploitation by other free-riders. In places, the dissertation relies on simple game theoretic models and intuitive economic equilibrium notions to analyze public good situations. The dissertation closes with a discussion of the government's role in providing public goods. An argument is made that, for certain kinds of goods (those over which preferences are public, but whose benefits are private), the standard public goods argument is not appropriate to homogeneous populations. If this is correct, other justifications for governmental provision must be summoned for goods of this form.
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