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Hidden Assets

How Countries Can Capitalize on Public Wealth

Temasek Holdings headquarters before the presentation of Temasek's annual review in Singapore, September 2009. Vivek Prakash / Courtesy Reuters

Most governments know much about their debt but little about their assets. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, as governments mobilized to manage their public debt, they largely ignored their public assets. Some countries, such as the Baltic states and Portugal, took steps to appraise their wealth, but most did not. The United States, for example, chose not to participate in a 2011 initiative by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to evaluate the size and composition of state-owned firms in member countries. 

But a better understanding of public commercial assets—defined as government property that generates profit, such as state-owned firms, real estate, and forests—could help yield significant amounts of wealth for economies struggling to get back on track. According to our calculations, which draw on data from the International Monetary Fund and other public sources (and which will be published in our forthcoming book, The Public Wealth of Nations), central governments

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