This paper examines the criticism of contingent valuation put forth by Blamey, Common and Quiggin (Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 1995, vol. 39, pp. 264–288). They argue that households have consistent preferences over private goods but not jointly consistent preferences over public and private goods and, hence, contingent valuation cannot uncover meaningful responses for the valuation of public goods. In this paper we argue that the motives that are manifested in choices for public goods can be explained in two ways. One is the model of the citizen, proposed by Blamey et al. (1995). The second is a model of neoclassical preferences with altruism. Given these alternative and competing explanations of choices for public goods, what matters is whether they imply differences in willingness to pay for public goods. We provide statistical evidence from a contingent valuation study of the control of deer in the USA that there is no difference in willingness to pay between those who profess ‘citizen’ or altruistic preferences and the rest of the presumably purely private respondents.