The West’s economic ‘take–off’ since the 17th century has involved a revolution in technology and business. But that has been conjoint with a revolution in the public sphere from the emergence of constitutional government to the panoply of new public institutions such as central banks, the legal apparatus of joint stock companies and the public underwriting of new knowledge in initiatives such as the British Admiralty’s Longitude Prize.
This essay presents a new agenda – that of the public private partnership in building the public goods of the information age. To do so, we first outline the nature of public goods and then explain how the advent of the internet has seen an explosion of ‘emergent public goods’ – which are not the product of government funding or delivery but emerge from human interaction.
Doing so reveals a potential role for government in accelerating, facilitating and, where necessary, funding the emergence of such public goods.