Government Failure

Government Failure

Society, Markets and Rules

Wilfred Dolfsma

This highly unique book takes a fundamental look at when and how a government can fail at its core responsibility of formulating rules. Government, representing society, relates to the economy by formulating the rules within which (market) players should operate. Although market and business failure are much discussed in the economics literature, government failure is often overlooked. This book addresses this gap, exploring in detail what constitutes government failure.

Chapter 11: Conclusions: market, business and government

Wilfred Dolfsma

Subjects: economics and finance, institutional economics, law and economics, political economy, public choice theory, welfare economics, law - academic, law and economics, politics and public policy, political economy, public choice, social policy and sociology, economics of social policy


In economics there have been extensive discussions regarding market failure. Market failure as a concept is relatively well developed, and even though full consensus has not emerged, it is clear where the differences of opinion reside. Markets fail whenever there is a natural monopoly such that only a single producer can produce a good or service at low cost because of economies of scale. This can drive prices up much higher than where they should ideally be, at marginal cost. A second occasion where a market fails is in the case of externalities, when costs or benefits are not (sufficiently) taken into account in a market price. When costs of pollution, an example of a public ‘bad’, or societal benefits of education or research, examples of public ‘goods’, are not taken into account, the incentives that private parties are faced with can lead them to consume, respectively, more or less of it than would be beneficial to society. Market failure due to externalities that are not included in the market price can result from ignorance about the effects of producing or consuming a good. There is a particular urge for government to step in when the effects of the prevalence of externalities cannot be prevented from affecting parties not involved in the commercial transaction. When non-excludability combines with non-rivalry a potentially large number of individuals are implicated in the effect of a market failure since there is no limit to the number of people affected.

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