NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Private Investment and Government Protection

Carolyn Kousky, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, Richard J. Zeckhauser

NBER Working Paper No. 12255
Issued in May 2006
NBER Program(s):   PE

Hurricane Katrina did massive damage because New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were not appropriately protected. Wherever natural disasters threaten, the government -- in its traditional role as public goods provider -- must decide what level of protection to provide to an area. It does so by purchasing protective capital, such as levees for a low-lying city.

We show that if private capital is more likely to locate in better-protected areas, then the marginal social value of protection will increase with the level of protection provided. That is, the benefit function is convex, contrary to the normal assumption of concavity. When the government protects and the private sector invests, due to the ill-behaved nature of the benefit function, there may be multiple Nash equilibria. Policy makers must compare them, rather than merely follow local optimality conditions, to find the equilibrium offering the highest social welfare.

There is usually considerable uncertainty about the amount of investment that will accompany any level of protection, further complicating the government’s choice problem. We show that when deciding on the current level of protection, the government must take account of the option value of increasing the level of protection in the future.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12255

Published: Carolyn Kousky & Erzo Luttmer & Richard Zeckhauser, 2006. "Private investment and government protection," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 73-100, September.

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