Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Mortimer Sellers, Stephan Kirste

Merit Goods

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6730-0_164-1


The German-born Harvard economist Richard A. Musgrave (1910–2007) introduced the twin concept of merit wants and merit goods to the economic analysis of the public sector. When he coined the name “merit goods” in 1957, he pointed out that certain goods such as free school lunches or subsidies to low-cost housing did not have the characteristics of a pure public or private good. If a government is dissatisfied with the level of consumption of such goods in the free market, it may intervene to increase consumption, even against the wishes of consumers, to promote their private as well as some social interests. Musgrave noticed that a term was missing for this domain which could not be described in terms of either private or public goods, although he acknowledged that, e.g., in education, there was an overlap between public (what he called social) and merit wants.

The topic of merit goods is relatively marginal in economics; most of the relevant literature produced in the...


Merit goods Merit wants Government intervention Public economics Public goods Normative individualism Paternalism 
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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK
  2. 2.Goldsmiths, University of LondonLondonUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Tetsu Sakurai
    • 1
  1. 1.Graduate School of Intercultural StudiesKobe UniversityKobeJapan