Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On the Provision of Public Goods: The New OSU Outdoor Recreation Complex

Public goods like parks, police and fire protection and roads, are under-provided by free markets thanks in large part to the free-rider problem.  If you can exclude non-payers from using them, people will opt to forego payment and yet use the good that others have paid for.  Witness Oregon Public Radio which, as I mentioned before, has only 10% of its listeners making voluntary contributions. This is why government is generally involved in the provision of such goods.  But even so it can be hard - witness the difficulty in getting local governments to pony up for the Sellwood Bridge - as there are always some who value the good more and others who value it less and wonder why they are being asked to share in the burden.

Which makes it remarkable that the students of Oregon State University voted to assess an extra fee on themselves in order to pay for the new outdoor recreation complex which I saw on my drive in this morning has been named "Student Legacy Field."  The fields are right in the center of campus and within easy reach of all of the dormitory buildings. I suspect part of the ability of the students to get the fee past has to do with the fact that current students are assessing a fee on future generations of students, but nevertheless I think it is a tremendously good investment.

Where once there was grass fields - beautiful yes, but totally unusable for a big chunk of the school year - there are now turf fields dedicated to student and intramural use that will help keep students active and fit year round.  I would be delighted as a student and this would be a big selling point as a prospective student.  It does this professors heart good to see soccer players out at 8am in the rain running around and getting exercise.

Throw in some volleyball courts, a renovated MacAlexander Fieldhouse and new tennis courts and you have a public good that is going to have huge social welfare benefits for the entire OSU community.

Well done students.

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