Public Goods

This is a nice point from Mark Kleiman, something he allegedly gleaned from a Tom Friedman column:

But there is an important insight hidden in Friedman’s breathless prose: you can’t much improve the quality of life of currently prosperous Americans (let’s say, folks above twice the median family income where they live) by giving them more of the things that money can buy. A safe neighborhood, walkable cities, fast, comfortable inter-city transport, excellent public schools and universities, scientific discovery, medical progress, clean air to breathe, an economy that is sustainable into the lives of one’s children and grandchildren, a vibrant high culture: these are primarily public goods, and need public expenditure to bring them about.

At the same time, we have reason to believe that in an affluent society such as ours a lot of the problems that people at the bottom suffer from have a lot to do with relative rather than absolute deprivation. In other words, a reduction in the volume of wealth in the hands of the wealthiest aimed at increasing the quantity and quality of public goods could make very wide swathes of the public better off.