Public Health, Public Goods, and Market Failure

Public Health Ethics 12 (3):287-292 (2019)
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This discussion revises and extends Jonny Anomaly's ‘public goods’ account of public health ethics in light of recent criticism from Richard Dees. Public goods are goods that are both non-rival and non-excludable. What is significant about such goods is that they are not always provided efficiently by the market. Indeed, the state can sometimes realize efficiency gains either by supplying such goods directly or by compelling private purchase. But public goods are not the only goods that the market may fail to provide efficiently. This point to a way of broadening the public goods account of public health to accommodate Dees' counterexamples, without abandoning its distinctive appeal. On the market failures approach to public health ethics, the role of public health is to correct public health-related market failures of all kinds, so far as possible. The underlying moral commitment is to economic efficiency in the sense of Pareto: if we can re-allocate resources in the economy so as to raise the welfare of some without lowering the welfare of any other, we ought to do so.

Author's Profile

L. Chad Horne
Northwestern University


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