From 1997 to 2001, more than 4,000 privatization operations have been carried out in more than 100 countries, bringing in government revenues of over 1,362 billion dollars. The phenomenon, which grew exponentially at the end of the 1990s and then abruptly slowed down, had dramatic consequences on the performance of state-owned enterprises and a significant impact on industrialized countries, as well as emerging and less developed economies. Yet there have been surprisingly few attempts to provide a systematic empirical account of the privatization process at the worldwide level. Why do governments privatize? Why do some countries accomplish large-scale privatization programmes, and others never privatize at all? Is privatization a trend or a cycle? Furthermore, how do governments privatize? Do governments really transfer ownership and control of state-owned enterprises or does private ownership tend to coexist with public control? This book provides some answers to these important questions trying to test research hypotheses set forth by the recent economic theory of privatization.
Comprehensive cross-country empirical analyses carried out over a period of more than twenty years are used in the book to show that privatization has taken place all over the world, sometimes spontaneously, more often under the pressure of economic and budgetary constraints. Several of the goals of the privatization have been met, but despite proclamations and programmes, only a small minority of countries has carried out a genuine privatization process, completely transferring ownership of state-owned enterprises to the private sector. A lack of political will is to some extent at the root of this reluctance. However this reluctance can be traced back partly to structural factors that would make an orderly privatization difficult, such as the absence of developed capital markets, appropriate regulation, and suitable institutions.