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Economic Perspectives on Privatization


  • John Vickers
  • George Yarrow


Despite being one of the most fundamental issues in political economy, the question of the appropriate boundary between public and private enterprise received relatively little attention in mainstream economic analysis until quite recently. In the 1980s, however, programs of ownership reform were started in many developed and developing countries. Dramatic though some of these policies have been, they are likely to be overshadowed in the 1990s by even greater privatization in the reforming socialist economies. The opening sections of this paper are organized around three broad and interrelated questions. How does ownership matter for the efficiency of enterprise performance? What is the role for privatization in financing public debts and deficits? What are the distributional and political implications of privatization? Finally we examine privatization in practice in three countries: Britain, Chile, and Poland.

Suggested Citation

  • John Vickers & George Yarrow, 1991. "Economic Perspectives on Privatization," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 111-132, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:5:y:1991:i:2:p:111-32 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.5.2.111

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oliver D. Hart, 1983. "The Market Mechanism as an Incentive Scheme," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 14(2), pages 366-382, Autumn.
    2. Boardman, Anthony E & Vining, Aidan R, 1989. "Ownership and Performance in Competitive Environments: A Comparison of the Performance of Private, Mixed, and State-Owned Enterprises," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 32(1), pages 1-33, April.
    3. Richard A. Posner, 1971. "Taxation by Regulation," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 2(1), pages 22-50, Spring.
    4. Fama, Eugene F, 1980. "Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(2), pages 288-307, April.
    5. Caves, Douglas W & Christensen, Laurits R, 1980. "The Relative Efficiency of Public and Private Firms in a Competitive Environment: The Case of Canadian Railroads," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(5), pages 958-976, October.
    6. Barry J. Nalebuff & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1983. "Prices and Incentives: Towards a General Theory of Compensation and Competition," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 14(1), pages 21-43, Spring.
    7. Bruce C. Greenwald, 1984. "Rate Base Selection and the Structure of Regulation," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 15(1), pages 85-95, Spring.
    8. Oliver E. Williamson, 1976. "Franchise Bidding for Natural Monopolies -- in General and with Respect to CATV," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 7(1), pages 73-104, Spring.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L33 - Industrial Organization - - Nonprofit Organizations and Public Enterprise - - - Comparison of Public and Private Enterprise and Nonprofit Institutions; Privatization; Contracting Out
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism


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