Public Goods, Redistribution and Rent Seeking

Public Goods, Redistribution and Rent Seeking

The Locke Institute series

Gordon Tullock

Gordon Tullock, eminent political economist and one of the founders of public choice, offers this new and fascinating look at how governments and externalities are linked. Economists frequently justify government as dealing with externalities, defined as benefits or costs that are generated as the result of an economic activity, but that do not accrue directly to those involved in the activity. In this original work, Gordon Tullock posits that government can also create externalities. In doing so, he looks at governmental activity that internalizes such externalities.

Chapter 4: The Poor

Gordon Tullock

Subjects: economics and finance, public choice theory, politics and public policy, public choice


Long ago, when I was younger and just entering academe, the Earhart Foundation held a series of small conferences in which leading scholars in what was then called ‘conservative’ economics or political science gave lectures to younger people like myself. In those far distant days we ‘conservatives’ were thin on the ground. Academe was thoroughly dominated by what then and now are called ‘liberals’ in the United States. Thus these conferences had two effects: they provided a great improvement in the intellectual content of the conservative movement, particularly for the younger scholars, and in addition made clear that we were not entirely alone in the academic community as a whole, even if we were pretty much confined to the company of a few older scholars in our immediate universities. The first such conference that I attended had three speakers one of whom was Milton Friedman. Among the many things that he talked about was charitable distribution and in particular the government’s role. This was rather unpopular among the ‘conservative’ scholars attending the conference. In general they did not like income redistribution and as it happened the United States was quite prosperous at the time so the poor were not currently a major problem. His argument however, which so far as I know had never appeared anywhere before, was that the poor generated an externality by making the non-poor unhappy. If my recollection is right he asked us if we would be happy to see somebody starve to death...

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