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Subsidies in Chilean public utilities


  • Serra, Pablo


The author analyzes subsidies in Chile's public utilities. Over the last decade, especially, significant efforts have been made to extend public services to rural populations. An explicit consumption subsidy for potable water (targeted to the poorest twenty percent of the population) currently benefits seventeen percent of the population. Cross-subsidies have been virtually eliminated in Chile, and existing subsidies are funded from the national budget. The elimination of cross-subsidies has facilitated competition in some services. Prices have fallen substantially in services that new operators have entered, showing that regulation is a poor substitute for competition. The Chilean experience shows that it is possible to design direct subsidies (such as the one for drinking water) at relatively low cost to the state. Moreover, putting rural infrastructure projects out to public tender whenever possible, has allowed substantial reductions in government spending. Chile's experience also shows that it is possible to use subsidies that do not distort people's behavior - by making sure that they perceive the marginal cost of providing the service. In rural zones where there is no infrastructure, investment needs to be subsidized. Users do not pay the long-run marginal cost, but it is important that the rate charged, at least cover the short-term marginal cost. In other words, rural utility charges are required to cover the system's operating costs. For those who argue that the poor would be better off with cash transfers (choosing their own consumption baskets), the author outlines the arguments for subsidizing utilities, beyond the moral value of giving the poor access to public services, considered basic for existence.

Suggested Citation

  • Serra, Pablo, 2000. "Subsidies in Chilean public utilities," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2445, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:2445

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Martin S. Feldstein, 1972. "Equity and Efficiency in Public Sector Pricing: The Optimal Two-Part Tariff," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 86(2), pages 175-187.
    2. Andres Gomez-Lobo, 1996. "The welfare consequences of tariff rebalancing in the domestic gas market," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 17(4), pages 49-65, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Estache, Antonio & Gomez-Lobo, Andres & Leipziger, Danny, 2000. "Utility privatization and the needs of the poor in Latin America - Have we learned enough to get it right?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2407, The World Bank.
    2. Michel Noel & W. Jan Brzeski, 2005. "Mobilizing Private Finance for Local Infrastructure in Europe and Central Asia : An Alternative Public Private Partnership Framework," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 7333, December.
    3. World Bank, 2004. "Chile - Rural Infrastructure in Chile : Enhancing Efficiency and Sustainability," World Bank Other Operational Studies 14371, The World Bank.


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