Lighthouse development by private and public entrepreneurship 1690-1911.

In his seminal 1974 paper, ‘The Lighthouse in Economics’, 1991 Nobel Prize winner Ronald Coase criticised J.S. Mill and Arthur Pigou and others who argued that lighthouses were an essential public good that could only ever be provided by government because of the difficulty of charging free-riding ships far out at sea. Coase pointed to the ‘private’ entrepreneurs in early modern England who provided lighthouse services for profit. Work of Bertrand and others uncovered historical reports of the poor quality of private lighthouse provision and the extortionate light dues levied by owners and their descendants.

I show lighthouse building exploded and capabilities improved after their nationalisation in 1836.

EHS lighthouses presentation

Below is our GIS showing spread of lighthouses including beacons mostly under private ownership 1690-1830. Progress had been made under the private system. The second map shows the developing nationalised system 1850-1910 and the hundreds of lights built by local harbour authorities and Trinity House by 1911 and after the nationalising Act of 1836.




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