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Table of Contents

  1. Topic pack - Microeconomics - introduction
  2. 1.1 Competitive Markets: Demand and Supply
  3. 1.1 Competitive Markets: Demand and Supply - notes
  4. 1.1 Competitive markets - questions
  5. 1.1 Competitive markets - simulations and activities
  6. 1.2 Elasticities
  7. 1.2 Elasticities - notes
  8. Section 1.2 Elasticities - questions
  9. Section 1.2 Elasticities - simulations and activities
  10. 1.3 Government intervention
  11. 1.3 Government Intervention - notes
  12. 1.3 Government intervention - questions
  13. 1.3 Government intervention - simulations and activities
  14. 1.4 Market failure
  15. 1.4 Market failure - notes
    1. The meaning of externalities
    2. Types of externalities
    3. How do externalities affect allocative efficiency?
    4. Negative externalities of production
    5. Negative externalities of consumption
    6. The economic theory of traffic congestion
    7. Demerit goods
    8. Government responses - demerit goods
    9. Possible government responses to externalities
    10. Direct government provision
    11. Extension of property rights
    12. Taxes and subsidies
    13. Tradeable pollution rights
    14. Regulation, legislation and direct controls
    15. Positive externalities of production
    16. Positive externalities of consumption
    17. Merit goods
    18. Why might merit goods be underprovided by the market?
    19. Government responses - merit goods
    20. Public goods
    21. Common access resources & sustainability
    22. The tragedy of the Commons
    23. Common access resources in practice
    24. Sustainability
    25. Threats to Sustainability
    26. The threat to sustainability from the use of fossil fuels
    27. The threat to sustainability from poverty
    28. Government responses to threats to sustainability
    29. Cap and Trade Schemes
    30. Promoting Clean Technologies
    31. The 'dirty side' of cleaner technologies
    32. International responses to threats to sustainability
    33. Asymmetric information
    34. Abuse of monopoly power
    35. Inequality
  16. Section 1.4 Market failure - questions
  17. Section 1.4 Market failure - simulations and activities
  18. 1.5 Theory of the firm
  19. 1.5 Theory of the firm - notes (HL only)
  20. Section 1.5 Theory of the firm - questions
  21. Section 1.5 Theory of the firm - simulations and activities
  22. Print View

Direct government provision


The existence of externalities provides an important argument for the common ownership, or nationalisation of a number of key industries.

The argument is that privately owned firms, in order to survive in a competitive world, necessarily have to put their own interests before those of society as a whole. This harsh reality of the market is likely to manifest itself in the generation of negative externalities such as pollution. The self-control of these externalities would involve higher costs and an adverse impact on profits. Conversely, production activity which had net positive externalities on society will not be undertaken in sufficient quantities.

Nationalised industries, on the other hand, which, on account of being commonly owned, could be operated according to broad social criteria, rather than the narrow commercial one of private profitability. This allows for the possibility of externalities to be fully incorporated into production decisions. Thus, for example, questions of workers' safety standards and atmospheric pollution could be accorded priority status, and internalised. Profit maximisation would cease to be the goal.

Similarly, an important argument for merit goods such as education and healthcare being directly provided by the government rather than through the market, is that they not only have private benefits but also have significant positive externalities on society as a whole which individuals would tend to ignore when making their consumption decisions.

As a result, left to the market, under-provision is likely to occur; for example, individuals would be prepared to buy education through the market if they had to, as substantial private benefits, such as higher life-time earnings, are likely to result. However, a case for a higher level of government provision can be made on the grounds that not all the benefits accrue solely to the individual - society gains from a more efficient and adaptable labour force and perhaps a more tolerant and more socially aware population. The topic of such merit goods will be considered in more detail.

The above arguments for direct government provision would of course be strongly contested by free market economists who would argue the case for privatisation, the desirability of using markets to provide merit goods and the extremely poor record of pollution control of the formerly centrally planned economies of Eastern Europe.