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Advancing Public Goods

Edited by Jean-Philippe Touffut

The studies cover topics in the conceptualization, classification and stratification of public goods. Also examined are public institutional design, global economic institutions and partnership typologies. Individual papers address the financing, regulatory, organizational and legal aspects relating to services of general interest in Europe. The dynamics of global public good production, including monopolies, patents, scientific uncertainty and market failures, are discussed. Empirical research on the state, profit and non-profit sectors is presented. Providing numerous examples of specific public goods, the contributions also highlight the impact of macroeconomic policies on provision. The book presents a broad diversity of new approaches to global public goods within the framework of mixed economies, beyond the standard economic analysis of public services.
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Chapter 6: Knowledge as Global Public Good: Production Conditions and Preconditions

Claude Henry


Claude Henry INTRODUCTION Freely circulating knowledge is sometimes held up as the perfect example of a global public good. It is both worldwide and intergenerational. It is a legacy par excellence (except in cases of historical cataclysm like the fall of the Roman Empire). Yet certain forms of knowledge – invention in particular – cannot be produced without making, at least temporarily, this global public good into a ‘club’ good.1 The opening section of this chapter analyses the tensions between the resulting club good and the public good, their effects and possible regulatory solutions. At the same time, knowledge is a necessary precondition for the production of other global public goods. In that respect, it generally assumes the form of uncertain knowledge. Neither deterministic, nor quantifiable in terms of objective probabilities, it might best be described as ambiguous. This is particularly due to the magnitude and functional complexity of global public goods. The decision to produce these goods requires that a crucial question be answered: what theoretical and empirical characteristics must this uncertain knowledge have in order to constitute an acceptable basis for decision making? The closing section of this chapter provides some responses to this question based on two particularly significant examples – climate change and the effectiveness of antibiotics. These two examples also bring to light a common temptation for decision makers to make use of uncertainty as an excuse for inertia well beyond what seems reasonably justified relative to the uncertainty in question. 137 138...

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