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Public vs. Private Interest Groups

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  • 0:02 Public Interest Groups
  • 2:02 Private Interest Groups
  • 2:52 Lobbying
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the differences between private and public interest groups. In doing so, it will highlight the goals of each as well as the concepts of big business and lobbying.

Public Interest Groups

Being part of mainstream Westernized culture, most of us have heard of interest groups. For instance, if I say Greenpeace, the Chamber of Commerce, or the American Civil Liberties Union, all of which are interest groups, I'm guessing the names are going to ring a bell to most of us. In today's lesson, we're going to work to deepen this knowledge a bit, as we discuss both private and public interest groups.

Let's kick things off with public interest groups. Speaking rather generally, a public interest group promotes issues of general public concern. For example, public interest groups claim to exist to protect the rights and well-being of all, rather than just the rights and well-being of their members. They exist in order to take care of public concerns, things like pollution, protection for children, and equal rights for women, just to name a few.

Public interest groups can exist at all levels of government and society. They can be local, national, or even international. For instance, within my small county, we have a public interest group known as Keep it Beautiful. It exists to encourage people in our county to take care of their private property as well as public areas, like parks and roadways. Moving up in size is the Sierra Club. At the national level, this public interest group promotes environmental consciousness through tag lines like, 'Preserve our Wild America.' Perhaps even more famous is the already mentioned Greenpeace, a public interest group that works internationally to protect the environment.

Although public interest groups are often concerned with environmental issues, it would be a mistake to assume their scope is limited to just this. On the contrary, public interest groups exist for things like religious freedom, gender equality, safe labor practices, freedom from political oppression, and much more. With this vast array of subjects, the key thing to remember is that public interest groups are supposed to exist for the good of all, not just for the good of some.

Private Interest Groups

Differing from public interest groups, we have private interest groups. Again speaking very, very generally, private interest groups exist for the betterment of their immediate members. Many times, private interest groups have their basis in what is usually termed big business, or large-scale, important financial or commercial activity. With this in mind, some examples of private interest groups within the U.S. are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the National Association of Manufacturers.

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