Public Interest

Although the concept of the public interest has a long history, it remains one of the most often used yet ill-defined concepts in public discourse. The difficulty in specifying the public interest parallels similar problems in clearly distinguishing public from private organizations. This entry reviews the concept paying specific attention to its applications to both economic activity and the evaluation of public action.

The Public Interest and Economic Activity

In the context of economic activity, the precursors of the modern notion of the public interest included, in Roman and medieval times, the concept of a “just price” controlled to protect consumers against exploitation. Such a price contrasted with the “natural price” produced by an unfettered market. Later, special expectations about the public interest were assigned to certain ...

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