Categorizing Public Policy


Goods are the commodities, services, and systems that satisfy people’s wants or needs. Private goods can be owned by a particular person or group, and are excluded from use by others, typically by means of a price. Free-market economists believe that the government has no role in regulating the exchange of private goods because the market will regulate itself. Public goods, on the other hand, are goods like air, water, wildlife, and forests that no one owns, so no one has responsibility for them. Most people agree the government has some role to play in regulating public goods.

We categorize policy based upon the degree to which costs and benefits are concentrated on the few or diffused across the many. Distributive policy collects from the many and benefits the few, whereas regulatory policy focuses costs on one group while benefitting larger society. Redistributive policy shares the wealth and income of some groups with others.