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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Voluntary Provision of Public Goods? The Turnpike Companies of Early America


The turnpike companies of early America (roughly 1795-1840) were very unprofitable but conferred vast benefits to communities served. Purchases were necessary to complete the road and unprofitability was foreseen. Thus the turnpikes would appear to have been public goods. Yet hundreds of turnpikes were provided through voluntary association. The free rider problem was overcome by an almost vigilant impulse to participate and to see that your neighbor did likewise. 

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