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Contemporary Public Enterprises in Global Perspective: Theory and Evidence

Massimo Florio

This paper offers a discussion of positive theories of the public enterprise (PE), in the global perspective, i.e. without reference to specific country or region, and presents some fresh evidence potentially supporting or rejecting alternative theories. It also concludes with some policy implications.

Our research question is: Why do governments still own enterprises, and in certain cases even create new ones?

The dominant answer is that governments keep the control of PE mainly for the self-interest of politicians, or at least for some inertia. This explanation is labelled the public choice” perspective about the positive theory of PE. However, a different explanation is possible: PE exist because they play a public mission role that is not performed by market mechanism. This is labelled the public mission” perspective. The two explanations are not mutually exclusive, and not entirely supported by evidence, but is seems that the importance of the public choice interpretation in the real world has been exaggerated, while the public mission one has been unduly neglected.

Key words: Public Enterprises; Economic Behavior; Public Choice; Privatization

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