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On the Definition of Public Goods. Assessing Richard A. Musgrave's contribution
Centre d'Économie de la Sorbonne
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This paper provides an explanation of the emergence of the standard textbook definition of public goods in the middle of the 20th century. It focuses on Richard Musgrave's contribution in defining public goods as non-rival and non-excludable - from 1939 to 1969. Although Samuelson's mathematical definition is generally used in models of public goods, the qualitative understanding of the specificity of pure public goods owes more to Musgrave's emphasis on the impossibility of exclusion. This paper also highlights the importance of the size of the group to which benefits of a public good accrue. This analysis allow for a reassessment of the Summary table of goods which first appeared in Musgrave and Musgrave (1973) textbook.
Richard A. Musgrave, social goods, public goods, non-rivalry, non-exclusion
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