July 17, 2024 

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HIERARCHY OF NEEDS: Developed by Abraham Maslow, the notion that people are motivated to satisfy basic physiological needs (food, shelter, etc.) before moving on to satisfying higher psychological needs (security, companionship, etc.). These alternative needs are layered in a hierarchial pattern with physiological needs on the bottom, safety needs on the second layer, belonging needs on the third layer, esteem needs on the fourth layer, and self-actualization needs at the top. This hierarchy of needs has been used to help explain the progress of human societies from agrarian to manufacturing to service to information.

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Goods characterized by nonrival consumption and the ability to exclude nonpayers. Near-public goods are one of four types of goods differentiated by consumption rivalry and nonpayer excludability. The other three goods are near-public (rival consumption and nonpayers can be excluded), public (nonrival consumption and nonpayers cannot be excluded), and common-property (rival consumption and nonpayers cannot be excluded). The ease of excluding of nonpayers means near-public goods can be exchanged through markets, but nonrival consumption means efficiency can only be achieved with government intervention.
Near-public goods are one of four types of goods differentiated by consumption rivalry (rival or nonrival) and nonpayer excludability (excludable and nonexcludable). In particular, these are goods characterized by nonrival consumption, meaning the consumption by one person does not impose an opportunity cost on others, but the ability to exclude nonpayers from gaining benefits from consumption.

Near-Public Goods
The exhibit to the right illustrates the four alternative types of goods -- private, public, common-property, and near-public -- based on the mix of consumption rivalry and nonpayer excludability. Near-public goods are in the bottom right cell of the matrix, with nonrival consumption and the ability to exclude nonpayers.

While nonpayers can be excluded from the consumption of near-public goods, nonrival consumption means there is no efficiency reason to do so. These goods are often exchanged through markets but also provided by governments. Markets exchange near-public goods because they can, but government provision is needed for efficiency. Examples of near-public goods exemplify the provision by both the public and the private sector, including education, transportation, and communication. In some cases governments and markets compete in the provision of near-public goods (education) and other cases they work as partners (air transportation).

Near-public goods with the ability to exclude nonpayers can be and are commonly exchanged through markets. Unfortunately, like public goods nonrival consumption means the marginal cost is zero and efficiency is achieved if the price is also zero. This mixed up nature of near-public goods, sort of a public good, but also sort of a private good, generally leads to controversy. Some contend that if private businesses can sell near-public goods through markets, then governments need not be involved. Others see the government revenue generated from selling near-public goods as a means of lessening the tax burden on the public. Moreover, fairness seems served in that those consuming are also the ones paying for near-public goods.

Examples Hither and Yon

Near-public goods are quite common in the modern economy. Broadcast services, including television and radio, are among the most noted. Educational services, transportation routes, libraries, and parks are other examples. Even though access to a college classroom can be restricted, the education of one student in the room can be obtained without preventing the education of other students. Access to highways can be restricted, but many can use them at the same time.

Nonrival Consumption

Because near-public goods, like public goods, are nonrival in consumption, the consumption by one person does not prevent the simultaneous consumption by others. Any number of people, potentially EVERYONE, can enjoy the benefits of consuming a near-public good AT THE SAME TIME. This means consuming a near-public good does NOT impose an opportunity cost on others.

Suppose, for example, that Edgar Millbottom wants to watch a little television, which happens to be playing his favorite show, Brace Brickhead, Medical Detective. The benefit that Edgar derives from watching this television show does not prevent others from also receiving benefits. Everyone, including Alicia Hyfield, another Brace Brickhead fan, watching this show on their own television sets can also enjoy the action, adventure, and mystery that is Brace Brickhead. More to the point, enjoyment received by Edgar does prevent Alicia Hyfield from here own enjoyment, Edgar's consumption of Brace Brickhead entertainment DOES NOT impose an opportunity cost on anyone else.

Whether the good is public or near-public, nonrival consumption means that efficiency is best achieved when everyone in society is allowed to consume the good, without restriction. Price is again one restriction that might prevent consumption. According to the basic law of demand, the higher the price, the fewer the consumers. Because the opportunity cost of consumption is zero, efficiency dictates that the price is also zero.

However, the opportunity cost of production is most certainly NOT zero. Resources, that could be used to produce other goods, are used for the production of near-public goods. The best (that is, efficient) way to finance the production and provision of near-public goods is through funds that are generated independent of consumption, such as taxes (or possibly through a source like commercial advertising).

Nonpayer Excludability

Unlike public goods, but like private goods, near-public goods are characterized by the ability to exclude nonpayers from gaining ownership and control. Nonpayers CAN be excluded from consumption. Near-public goods have moderately controllable property rights. The owner of a near-public good can set and enforce the terms by which ownership is transferred to another.

Again, let's turn to Edgar Millbottom's consumption of Brace Brickhead entertainment. The television station, network, cable company, or satellite provider can control access to this television show. They can scramble the signal, which can then only be viewed only if the consumer pays to have the signal descrambled.

With nonpayer excludability, near-public goods can be exchanged through markets. Ownership and control can be transferred only to those who pay.

A Word About Capacity

While near-public goods are, in general, nonrival in consumption and thus can provide benefits to one without imposing an opportunity cost on others, there is an important exception. Some near-public goods have capacity limits. Highways, classroom seating, library space, park services all have limited capacities.

True that before the capacity limits are reached, one person does not impose an opportunity cost on others. However, once the limit is reached, then the use by one does prevent the use by others. When all seats in a classroom are filled, then other potential users are prevented from consuming the good. When the highway is congested, then use by on driver imposes an opportunity cost on other drivers.

Markets and Governments

The combination of nonrival consumption and nonpayer excludability means that near-public goods can be exchanged through markets. But, until a near-public good reaches its capacity, efficiency is best served if government provides the goods at a zero price. Like public goods, efficiency is achieved if everyone benefitting from a near-public good is allowed to gain access, without restrictions such as that imposed by a price. However, the story changes when the capacity is reached. In this case, inefficiency is not served by a zero price.

The characteristics of near-public goods mean that they are provided both through markets and by governments. Private universities operate along side public universities. Freeways exist along side turnpikes. Free broadcast television competes with pay-per-view or subscription television.

The gray area that is near-public goods creates a great deal of debate in the study of public finance. To pay or not to pay, that is the question.

Three Other Goods

Near-public goods are only one of four types of goods characterized by consumption rivalry and nonpayer excludability. The three are private goods, public goods, and common-property goods.
  • Private: Private goods are characterized by rival consumption and the ability to exclude nonpayers. Private goods can be easily, effectively, and efficiently exchanged through markets.

  • Public: Public goods are characterized by nonrival consumption and the inability to exclude nonpayers. Public goods cannot be exchanged through markets. The only efficient way to provide public goods is through governments.

  • Common-Property: Common-property goods are characterized by rival consumption and the inability to exclude nonpayers. These goods can not be efficiently exchanged through markets and governments are often called upon to control or regulate their use.


Recommended Citation:

NEAR-PUBLIC GOODS, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2024. [Accessed: July 17, 2024].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | public finance | consumption rivalry | nonpayer excludability | private goods, public goods | common-property goods | free-rider problem | public goods: demand | public goods: efficiency |

Or For A Little Background...

     | good | production | efficiency | consumption | market demand | market | market efficiency | government sector | public sector | property rights | private sector |

And For Further Study...

     | market failures | taxation principles | tax proportionality | tax effects | tax equity | involuntary exchange | benefit principle | ability-to-pay principle |

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