Merit goods

Peter Cserne* (Corresponding Author), Maxime Desmarais-Tremblay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy
EditorsStephan Kirste, M.N.S. Sellers
Place of PublicationDordrecht, Netherlands
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)978-94-007-6730-0
ISBN (Print)978-94-007-6730-0
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2022


  • Merit goods
  • Merit wants
  • Government intervention
  • Public economics
  • Public goods
  • Normative individualism
  • Paternalism


Dive into the research topics of 'Merit goods'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this