To be or not to be: Becker, “Govt equity in private companies, bad idea”

There are many illustrations of the bad influence on corporate governance exerted by the governments of France, Italy, Russia, and many other countries that own shares in private companies. One current appalling example is the situation of Alitalia Airlines, where the government owns almost half the stock. This has been a very inefficiently run airline that is hostage among others to powerful unions. Strikes have been common, flights frequently takeoff and arrive quite late, and baggage losses are high- experienced travelers try hard to avoid using Alitalia. Since Alitalia’s command of routes into and out of Italy has market value, stronger European Airlines, such as Air France and Lufthansa, have wanted to take this airline over. However, the Italian government has resisted these efforts and continues to finance the sizeable monthly deficits of the airline. It fears the power of the unions who realize that many airline jobs at Alitalia will be lost if a more efficient airline takes charge.

Also, see – Becker’s opinion on wsj today:

The Treasury’s announced insurance of all money-market funds, and the full insurance of bank deposits, carry considerable moral hazard risks, but they have not aroused much controversy. The main thrust of the new banking law allows the Treasury secretary to purchase bank assets up to $700 billion in order to increase the liquidity of the banking system. These assets are of uncertain worth since there is essentially no market for many of them, and hence they have no market price. The government hopes to create this market partly through using auctions, where banks would offer their assets at particular prices, and the government would decide whether to buy them. I would have preferred starting with a smaller dollar value of purchases, and up the amount if the situation deteriorates further.


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