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May 19, 2024 

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FIRST ESTATE: In past centuries, this included the religious leaders and clergy. In modern times, I like to use it in reference to politicians and government leaders who can exert a great deal of control over resources through the coercive powers of government. One historical function of the first estate is to protect the less powerful consumers, taxpayers, and workers of the third estate from the market control typically held by the business leaders of the second estate. It is not uncommon, however, for an unhealthy degree of cooperation between the first and second estates, which often ends up with the enslavement of the third estate (figuratively and literally). At times help is forthcoming from the watchdog journalist of the fourth estate--unless they too have been overtaken by the ruling elite.

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PUBLIC SECTOR:

A common term for governments, including all three levels--federal, state, and local. It is termed the public sector to indicate that decisions are made by governments on behalf of the public. The contrasting phrase is private sector, in which decisions are made by private individuals (either consumers or producers) in pursuit of their personal self-interests.
The public sector is another term for the government sector. It includes the activities undertaken by government employees (elected, appointed, or other) when they are working on behalf of governments. The public sector is best specified from a functional perspective--by what people do, not who they are. While the private sector, in essence, includes every member of society, it does not include everything that everyone does. People are part of the public sector when they are serving in elected public offices, working in the military, or working for a government agency. However, they are part of the private sector when they are buying goods, working in factories, running companies, and engaging in voluntary market exchanges.

Government Sector

The government sector includes all levels of government, including federal, state, and local. The primary function of the government sector is to force resource allocation decisions that might not otherwise be made by the rest of the economy.

Governments rely on the ownership and control of resources to coerce or force specific allocation decisions. This ownership and control may result from collective decision-making (that is, elections), such as what exists in a democracy; or it can be obtained by force by a power-crazed dictator with a large army.

Through whatever means the public sector obtains its power, the prime question is how the power is used. Like fire, public sector power can be used for good or bad. Some well-meaning (usually with a liberal bent) folks see assorted problems of markets and market-based economies (including, but not limited to, market failure inefficiencies at the microeconomic level and business-cycle instability at the macroeconomic level), and look to the public sector for solutions. Other equally well-meaning (primarily with a conservative view) folks see the myriad of public-sector failings and the perpetual threat to individual freedoms of an oppressive government, and view government as the source of problems, not the solution.

An Ongoing Allocation Debate

A distinction between the public sector and the private sector reflects the two basic methods of answering the three questions of allocation--governments and markets. The public sector relies on government decisions that are involuntarily imposed on the economy, but, in theory at least, are made on behalf of the public. The private sector relies on markets and the private ownership and control of resources for voluntary allocation decisions.

The terms private sector and public sector reflect the ongoing debate over the degree of government involvement in the economy. Some debaters (liberals) say that a lot of involvement is needed, others (conservatives) say very little is needed. While this debate is unlikely to be concluded (EVER!), evidence to date indicates some government intervention can be useful, just not too much.

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Recommended Citation:

PUBLIC SECTOR, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia, http://www.AmosWEB.com, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2024. [Accessed: May 19, 2024].


Check Out These Related Terms...

     | private sector | government functions | paternalism | nationalization |


Or For A Little Background...

     | political views | liberal | conservative | normative economics | fifth rule of imperfection | first estate | second estate | third estate | mixed economy |


And For Further Study...

     | four estates | economic system | distribution standards | ownership and control | economic goals | privatization |


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