How government grows, and why it will continue to grow

This is an article calling for feminine hygiene products to be made “free” – that is, provided (somehow or other) by the government; to be recognised as a “public good”.

This is a comment left on the article: “You wouldn’t walk into a public loo or toilets in your workplace and be expected to bring your own toilet roll. If you were, there’d be outrage. I definitely think sanitary products should be provided for free in public restrooms.” (My emphasis)

And this is taken from Anthony de Jasay’s ‘Hayek: Some missing pieces’ (my bold):

“[Hayek] accepts the textbook division of the universe of goods and services into two exogenously determined halves, public and private. Private goods are excludable, hence can, public goods are non-excludable, hence cannot be produced in voluntary transactions, where goods are forthcoming against equivalent resources or not at all.

In reality, there is no such exogenous division. Nothing is “excludable” without further ado; for nothing can be sold without the seller incurring costs to exclude from access those who would not pay the price. Exclusion cost is no more avoidable in a good destined to be sold than is the cost of production or transport. Everything is excludable at some cost that may be high or low, depending on a host of circumstances, of which the physical characteristics of the good is only one. Over the universe of goods, exclusion cost is a continuous variable. Where society draws the dividing line between public and private goods is an endogenous decision, for social theory to define. Providing a good publicly saves exclusion cost. This advantage may be partly, wholly, or more than wholly offset by costs arising from wasteful use of the good the consumer can have without paying for it, and from other, less direct risks. If social choice were usually “collectively rational,” goods would be provided publicly if the saving of exclusion cost outweighed the disadvantages and added costs of publicness. As it is, whether a good becomes public, or stays private, is decided by the “public” through a political process that is not set up, and is quite unlikely, to be “collectively rational” in the above sense. Certain goods become public goods because it is held that people ought not to have to pay to have them, others because they won’t. All this is well understood now, and was already understood when Hayek expressed his view that the state ought to provide “highly desirable public goods.” The half-universe of public goods is in fact one we fill. It thus comes to contain innumerable goods that are desirable if and because they are public, so that their marginal cost to the individual consumer of the good is nil or imperceptible, and they amount to a “free lunch,” to something for nothing. If so, the observation that they are highly desirable is a product of circular reasoning. As long as the good remains a good, (i.e., short of saturation) every potential consumer of it will readily vote for its public provision if it is not yet so provided, and for its provision on a more generous scale if it is provided but sparingly. Where should the line be drawn? How should a liberal society count the votes for more of everything, and the votes against the taxes to pay for it? Whichever way it counts them, it has relatively little chance to stay liberal.”


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