The Political Economy of Lighthouses in Antebellum America

36 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2020 Last revised: 13 May 2021

See all articles by Justin T Callais

Justin T Callais

Texas Tech University, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Students

Vincent Geloso

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: October 20, 2020

Abstract

Lighthouses are the quintessential public goods and thus constitute a key illustration of market failure in need of government remedy. Considerable debates have been waged over whether optimal private provision was historically possible. However, little to no attention has been devoted to how lighthouse systems operated once governments took charge of remedying the public goods problem. Using the fact that Antebellum America came close to following the ideal textbook solution to the provision of public goods, we assess how government allocated lighthouses before the Civil War. We find some evidence that the lighthouses were built according to commercial needs. However, we also find strong evidence that political considerations played a strong role in selecting where lighthouses would be built.

Keywords: lighthouse, public goods, American economic history, public interest, public choice

JEL Classification: N31, H41, D72, L51

Suggested Citation

Callais, Justin and Geloso, Vincent, The Political Economy of Lighthouses in Antebellum America (October 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3715496 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3715496

Justin Callais

Texas Tech University, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Students ( email )

Box 42132
Lubbock, TX 79409-2132
United States

Vincent Geloso (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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