A Third Dimension to a Public Good

How many times do you visit wikipedia in a week? Have you ever thought of how wikipedia came into existence?

Yes! Its tagline ‘The Free Encyclopedia’ tells its story. Encyclopedia Britannica aimed to make a collection of all human knowledge. But, they stopped their print edition in 2012. The wikipedia we see today was started in 2001 inspired by that Encyclopedia Britannica which wanted people to create, make changes and update information. Today, you can create your own page on wikipedia, you can make changes to any of your favorite actor’s pages or add anything that is missing about your city. Going forward, let us breakdown and get deeper into understanding the need and importance of such platforms like wikipedia in different domains.

Globalisation is seen as the growing interdependence among the countries. The physical borders have started to become permeable. Globalisation is about more publicness where the individuals (people) in countries have started becoming interdependent. From the goods that are being traded from one country to another like that of silk, spices, etc,. today several services have also started getting through the permeable national borders. For example, while Covaxin made in India is exported to countries such as Brazil, Covishield by AstraZeneca is being manufactured in India through collaboration. Today globalisation has gone beyond just these goods and services into ideas and experiences being shared globally with each other.

Public good, as we all know, is that which belongs to everyone. Though public good has been defined in several contexts, it was first defined in the context of the welfare state post second world war as something that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable.

  • Non-rivalrous being the first dimension of a public good, it means any good that is being used by one will not prevent someone else from using it.

  • Non-excludable being the second dimension of a public good, it means that it is impossible to exclude anyone from using it.

But, in what form could this public good be? Anything and everything that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable can be a public good. Recently during the national lockdown because of a pandemic, a street vendor in India who used to cook food left packets of food on his cart for people who are in need to take it. Seeing this, many more people in the same neighbourhood got inspired and started leaving food packets on the same cart. And, food that started coming in large amounts which created a self-sustaining ecosystem to help those in need. Here, the cart that helped bring in a large amount of food for the people who are in need in that neighbourhood became a public good as it was non-rivalrous and non-excludable. And, the medium here was a cart which was used to reach this to the public.

A cart was a public good at the neighbourhood level in the previous example, let's now look for an example at the global level. An organisation KaBOOM in the USA which works in building playgrounds for children created an online platform for other organisations to learn from them on how to make playgrounds for children. This helped in enabling many more organisations and communities building playgrounds for children in their neighbourhood. The public good here is the toolkit that helped other organisations to build playgrounds. The Internet as a medium made this idea which was just a public good to a ‘global’ public good helping create an impact at scale. Hence adding one more dimension ‘global’ to the existing two dimensions of public good. Considering the diversity and complexity at global level, exponential spread of globalisation in this technological era has provided an opportunity to reach beyond national boundaries across different cultures throughout the world in the form of ‘global public good’ to offer support to all countries. It has now become cri