The Lightship in Economics?

44 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2018  

Rosolino Candela

Brown University

Vincent Geloso

Texas Tech University

Date Written: December 1, 2017


What role does government play in the provision of public goods? Economists have used the lighthouse as an empirical example to illustrate the extent to which the private provision of public goods is possible. This inquiry, however, has neglected the private provision of lightships. We investigate the private operation of the world’s first modern lightship, established in 1731 on the banks of the Thames estuary going in and out of London. First, we show that the Nore lightship was able to operate profitably and without government enforcement in the collection of payment for lighting services. Second, we show how private efforts to build lightships were crowded out by Trinity House, the public authority responsible for the maintaining and establishing lighthouses in England and Wales. By including lightships into the broader lighthouse market, we argue that the provision of lighting services exemplifies not a market failure, but a government failure.

Keywords: government failure; lighthouse; lightship; market failure; public goods

JEL Classification: D72, H40, P48

Suggested Citation

Candela, Rosolino and Geloso, Vincent, The Lightship in Economics? (December 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Rosolino Candela

Brown University ( email )

Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912
United States


Vincent Geloso (Contact Author)

Texas Tech University ( email )

1901 University Avenue
Lubbock, TX Texas 79410
United States

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