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Coase and Van Zandt on Lighthouses


  • William Barnett

    (Loyola University New Orleans, Louisiana)

  • Walter Block

    (Loyola University New Orleans, Louisiana)


Mainstream economics maintains that ``public'' goods will not be provided (adequately) by free markets. Rather, if society is to have (efficient amounts of) public goods, government intervention is required. Traditionally, lighthouses, along with national defense, were held up as the quintessential examples of such public goods that require governmental intervention if they are to be provided (in optimal amounts). This changed, however, with Coase, who maintained and is widely credited with proving that, historically, the market (i.e., free enterprise) provided lighthouse services. Our thesis is that although Van Zandt showed Coase's claim to be mistaken on the basis of this valid criticism of Coase, Van Zandt erroneously concludes that private lighthouses were not historically operational. The truth of the matter, we aver, is that private lighthouses were indeed historically operational, and that although Van Zandt himself provides evidence for this claim, he fails to recognize it as such.

Suggested Citation

  • William Barnett & Walter Block, 2007. "Coase and Van Zandt on Lighthouses," Public Finance Review, , vol. 35(6), pages 710-733, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:pubfin:v:35:y:2007:i:6:p:710-733

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    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Laurent Carnis, 2013. "The provision of lighthouses services: a political economy perspective," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 157(1), pages 51-56, October.
    2. repec:rau:journl:v:12:y:2017:i:2:p:41-56 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Walter Block & Ivan Jankovic, 2016. "Tragedy of the Partnership: A Critique of Elinor Ostrom," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 75(2), pages 289-318, March.
    4. Jordan Reel & Walter E. Block, 2013. "Educational Vouchers: Freedom to Choose?," Contemporary Economics, University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, vol. 7(4), December.


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