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Private or Public? A Taxonomy of Optimal Ownership and Management Regimes

  • Pitchford, Rohan
  • King, Stephen

We develop a theory that explains the difference between public and private ownership for the case of firms that are well approximated by an owner\managed or closely held form of firm. The theory is based on government monitoring and control of actions that potentially allow managers to divert value to themselves. More ‘public’ firms are synonymous with greater control of such actions, but generate greater bureaucracy costs. Therefore managers of public firms face flatter commercial incentives than managers of private firms. Flat incentives can be socially desirable when commercially productive activities generate large social harms relative to profit, but are undesirable when these activities are either benign or create external social benefits. The model we develop is flexible and has wide practical application. We provide a mapping between the qualitative characteristics of an asset, its main use – including public goods characteristics, and spillovers to other assets values – and the optimal ownership and management regime. The model is applied to single and multiple related assets. We address questions such as; when is it optimal to have one of a pair of related assets public and the other private; when is joint management desirable; and when should a public asset be managed by the owner of a related private asset? We show that while private ownership can be judged optimal in some cases solely on the basis of qualitative information, the optimality of any other ownership and management regimes relies on quantitative analysis. Application to emergency services, toxic waste disposal, retail product innovation, and vertical production chains (such as airports and water provision) are discussed.

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Paper provided by FGV/EPGE Escola Brasileira de Economia e Finanças, Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil) in its series Economics Working Papers (Ensaios Economicos da EPGE) with number 401.

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Date of creation: 01 Aug 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fgv:epgewp:401
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  1. Stephen King & Rohan Pitchford, 2001. "Private or Public? A taxonomy of optimal ownership and management regimes," International and Development Economics Working Papers idec01-5, International and Development Economics.
  2. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 1988. "Property Rights and the Nature of the Firm," Working papers 495, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  3. Jorde, Thomas M & Teece, David J, 1990. "Innovation and Cooperation: Implications for Competition and Antitrust," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(3), pages 75-96, Summer.
  4. Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer & Robert Vishny, 1997. "Privatization in the United States," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 28(3), pages 447-471, Autumn.
  5. Oliver Hart & Andrei Shleifer & Robert Vishny, 1996. "The Proper Scope of Government: Theory and an Application to Prisons," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1778, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  6. Shapiro, Carl & Willig, Robert D, 1990. "On the Antitrust Treatment of Production Joint Ventures," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(3), pages 113-30, Summer.
  7. Schmidt, Klaus M, 1996. "The Costs and Benefits of Privatization: An Incomplete Contracts Approach," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(1), pages 1-24, April.
  8. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 1997. "Default and Renegotiation: A Dynamic Model of Debt," NBER Working Papers 5907, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Mark Armstrong & Simon Cowan & John Vickers, 1994. "Regulatory Reform: Economic Analysis and British Experience," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262510790, June.
  10. Pitchford, Rohan, 1995. "How Liable Should a Lender Be? The Case of Judgment-Proof Firms and Environmental Risk," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1171-86, December.
  11. King, Stephen & Pitchford, Rohan, 2002. "A Taxonomy of Optimal Ownership and Management Regimes," Discussion Papers 684, The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy.
  12. Jean-Jacques Laffont & Jean Tirole, 1991. "Privatization and Incentives," Working papers 572, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  13. David De Meza & Ben Lockwood, 1998. "Does Asset Ownership Always Motivate Managers? Outside Options And The Property Rights Theory Of The Firm," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(2), pages 361-386, May.
  14. Rajan, Raghuram G & Zingales, Luigi, 1998. "Power in a Theory of the Firm," CEPR Discussion Papers 1777, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  15. Suzumura, Kotaro, 1992. "Cooperative and Noncooperative R&D in an Oligopoly with Spillovers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1307-20, December.
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