The most general governmental service which takes account of both individual and common benefit is the maintaining of the judicial system. The system is maintained primarily for the common good, yet the individual is required to pay for the benefit received when he avails himself of the service.
Judicial System. - Governments very early undertook the function of settling the disputes of their citizens. At first the costs were borne by the disputants, but it gradually became recognized that justice was so much of a public asset that the greater part of the burden of securing it now rests on the public. It would be unwise to remove the entire burden from the litigants, however, for it would mean the congestion of the courts with unimportant cases.
In civil cases the part of the cost to be borne by the individual is usually placed upon the one found at fault. This has a beneficial effect in minimizing unimportant litigation. The proportion of the expense borne by the state in criminal cases is usually much greater than in the civil ones. As a whole, the cost of justice is an important item of expense in all countries and all political divisions. Comparisons are difficult to make because of the different systems in vogue.
Besides establishing justice, the judicial system provides many other services. It has become the function of courts to interpret constitutions, and to pass upon the constitutionality of legislation. Property rights are established, deeds and mortgages recorded, various sorts of licenses are granted, for all of which the individual who avails himself of the service must make payment. Usually it is small, and the real burden of the cost rests with the government.
Other Individual Payments. - Other examples of expenditures of this class are in various kinds of public improvement. Paving streets, building roads, and constructing sewers, are common illustrations. Primarily, the improvement is undertaken for the public benefit, yet obviously the property near or abutting it receives a benefit. This is why abutting lot owners are asked to help bear the cost of paving streets', and farmers owning land along an important highway are asked to help defray the expenses of improvements. A number of our postal activities is based on the same method of expenditure. The cost of providing this service in the more sparsely settled communities is much greater than the returns. In the United States the importance of the service to the individual has been minimized, since the returns have seldom been more than costs, but generally have been less. In a number of European countries the principle of securing a net return is followed.