public ownership

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public ownership,

government ownership of lands, streets, public buildings, utilities, and other business enterprises. The theory that all land and its resources belong ultimately to the people and therefore to the government is very ancient. From it comes the doctrine of eminent domain, asserting that the state has ultimate control over lands and buildings within its borders. Until the policy of laissez faire in the 18th cent. emphasized capitalistic activity, public ownership was unquestioned. In ancient times governments owned and conducted many enterprises, such as water systems, theaters, and baths. In the United States, government units own and manage the public school system, public highways and bridges, dams for the reclamation of land and for power (and the management and sale of power), and many other enterprises. The Tennessee Valley Authority is an example of public ownership. The importance of public utilities to the life of the community has frequently led to municipal ownership of water, sewerage, electric light, power, gas, and transportation systems. In Europe, where public ownership is more extensive and of longer standing than in the United States, it includes railroads, telephone and telegraph lines, and radio and television and was extended to coal mining, other power resources, and banking. Since World War II many Western nations have practiced public ownership of business enterprises through public corporations such as AmtrakAmtrak,
the National Railroad Passenger Corp., authorized to operate virtually all intercity passenger railroad routes in the United States. Amtrak was created by Congress in 1970 in response to more than two decades of continuous operating deficits by privately run passenger
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. Public ownership was practiced most extensively in the USSR and other Communist countries, where government owned almost all land and all natural resources, and where nearly all industries were carried on by state institutions. The extent of public ownership contracted in the 1980s and 90s, however, in Britain, France, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet nations (see nationalizationnationalization,
acquisition and operation by a country of business enterprises formerly owned and operated by private individuals or corporations. State or local authorities have traditionally taken private property for such public purposes as the construction of roads, dams,
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). Many developing countries also have large-scale public ownership, especially of vital industries and resources. Public ownership is to be distinguished from government control of private enterprises in utilities, business, and agriculture. In the United States such control has been increased through loans, direct financing, and laws providing for the government's regulation of corporate activities.

public ownership

the state ownership of some or all of the means of production. While the term can be used to apply to state ownership within COMMAND ECONOMIES, its main application has been to sectors of the economy within MIXED ECONOMIES which are state owned. An alternative term for the process in which industries are brought under state ownership is nationalization. In Britain the 1945 Labour government undertook an extensive programme of nationalization, including coal and gas, iron and steel, electricity, and civil aviation. Subsequently, the process has been reversed as the result of the radical programme of PRIVATIZATION under Conservative governments (see also THATCHERISM). Justifications for public ownership include the arguments that public utilities, especially ‘natural monopolies’, require public control, and the more general arguments that SOCIALISM and COMMUNISM are necessary to remove EXPLOITATION. Arguments against are that state ownership requires extensive bureaucratic controls, achieves less efficiency, and tends to reduce individual initiative and human freedoms. Between the pro- or anti- arguments, there also exist arguments for a balance between private and public ownership. While the command economies of Eastern Europe proved inefficient, it has not been established that public ownership and state planning are inherently inefficient. Empirical studies have discovered no simple pattern in differences between private and public corporations.
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