Quarterly Review 2021

The Role Played by Public Enterprises: How Much Does It Differ Across Countries?

James A. Schmitz, Jr. | Senior Research Economist

Spring 1996

This article studies the extent to which governments produce goods for the market (that is, the extent of public enterprise production). It concludes that the current literature dramatically understates the role of public enterprises in many low-productivity countries. The current literature focuses on the total value of goods produced by public enterprises. This article focuses on the types of goods they produce. While the total value of goods produced by public enterprises (as a share of total output) differs a bit across countries, the types of goods they produce differ much more dramatically. In many low-productivity countries, the government produces a large share of the country's manufactured goods. In nearly all high-productivity countries, the government stays out of the manufacturing sector altogether. Therefore—and because the manufacturing sector plays a special role in economies—this article concludes that public enterprises play a very large role in many low-productivity countries.

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