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Working Paper Series

The Theory and Practice of Public Good Selection: The Case of Legal Aid


  • Lee Friedman, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
  • Robert Letzler, University of California, Berkeley


  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (November 2005)


We began this research with two overlapping objectives. The first, and of most general
academic interest, is to gain insight about the following puzzle: why has there been
essentially nil implementation of any of the institutional ideas in the economics literature
for improving the efficiency of public goods decisions? These ideas have been proposed
and refined in literally hundreds of academic articles over the past 30 years, many of
them have undergone extensive laboratory testing, and we have an extensive network of
public policy practitioners and academics that might be expected to help bring them into
practice. The second objective is more specific and of immediate policy relevance: to
understand if there are opportunities to increase the effectiveness of the federal Legal
Services Corporation (LSC) by improving its decisions about its own internal public
goods, largely the provision of information to attorneys that directly service the eligible
low-income population. Providing these public goods requires locating, customizing,
synthesizing, and creating documents and templates, doing research, leading training, and
answering questions. We hope that our joint consideration of these two objectives might
be beneficial to each: identifying practical implications of the public goods literature may
benefit the LSC, and a case-study of LSC may identify general challenges that public
goods mechanism literature should address.

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Last updated on 06/07/2013