ILLUSTRIOUS economist Ronald Coase won his Nobel Prize after a long career at the top of his profession. But he often recalls he was awarded this intellectual version of the Olympic gold medal for ideas he first articulated as a youthful lecturer at the University of Dunin in the early 1930s.
A pivotal moment in his professional history is when he came to look at examples of ventures where it was claimed the market failed. Every textbook claimed that lighthouses had to be provided by the state, being an example of a public good.
But the opposite is true. Every port has a plain interest in being accessible and safe. Without maritime traffic, ports atrophy. What astonished Coase was the professional outrage at his discovery that lighthouses had a long history of being private or philanthropic and were emphatically not agencies of the state.
These thoughts were in my mind when I came upon the Royal National Lifeboat Institute - based in Poole, Dorset, yet active on every British coastline. No doubt it has flaws, but the RNLI seems to me so thoroughly virtuous and admirable that it deserves a big halo.
Conceived in 1789 after the wreck of the Adventure off the Tyne and formalised in 1824 by Sir William Hillary, the RNLI long predates the ambulance service or police.
The RNLI is a national operation, the day-to-day reality at each of its 224 lifeboat stations is intensely local. The almost tangible esprit de corps that comes from being part of a team that rescues more than 6,400 people a year is really local allegiance and pride.
I have long argued that we should use the RNLI as a model for many of our other institutions.
Reciting the virtues of the R