Yesterday, I chartered a sailboat so my family and I could spend a couple of hours out on the waters off Nantucket. The captain of the boat met us at the town pier, loaded us onto a small skiff, and then took us to a mooring out in the harbor, where the boat was waiting.So "free markets" use the price system to allocate resources, and there are no shortages while governments prefer other mechanisms, in this case a lottery, which don't always direct resources to their highest value use. A lottery allocates resources on the basis of luck rather than economic logic. There is no guarantee that the luckiest person will also have the highest value use for the resource.
He explained to us that he would prefer to keep his sailboat at the pier, which would make loading and unloading passengers much easier, but he could not get a space there. Every year, he told us, the town has a lottery to allocate the right to rent one of the scare docking slots. For quite a few years, the captain has been putting his name into the lottery, but he has never won. "There are just not enough spaces," he said.
Ever the economist, I replied, "It seems to me that the price isn't high enough."
"Well, actually," the captain said, "if you want to pay more, you can go down there." He pointed to the next dock over.
Apparently, next to the town pier is another pier that is privately owned and operated. The price for a docking space there is about five times as high as it is at the town pier. But there is never any significant shortage. Anyone can sign up for a slot, as long as you are willing and able to pay.
Monday, 17 August 2009
Government v. private provision
Greg Mankiw explains,