King Prawn, at Ricochet, identifies by metaphor the key distinguishing characteristics of The Public Good.
Whether you work in an office, a shop, or a store, you’ve had this experience. Every break room, lunch room, and food mess has one: the community fridge. The chair I occupied in the lunch room today was right next to one of these things, and every time the door was opened I was reminded of what a perfect metaphor it is for any contrived public good. Let’s review a few of the similarities:
Everyone uses it whether they like it or not
No one takes responsibility for its upkeep
Everyone claims a disproportionate amount of the good
Individuality and property rights disappear within it (I ate a sandwich named Steve…)
Unwanted personal items are often abandoned here
Over time, the condition deteriorates to a completely unsanitary state
Everyone complains about the conditions
Everyone expects someone else to deal with the problem
Eventually those who use it the least end up cleaning the thing out
The smell never completely goes away
In over 20 years of gainful employment, I’ve never seen a common work refrigerator that did not fit this description perfectly. Every experience I have had with a contrived public good has been exactly the same â€” be it public transportation, public restrooms, or public recreational facilities. We can now expect the same in our healthcare.