In This Review

The Public Wealth of Nations: How Management of Public Assets Can Boost or Bust Economic Growth
The Public Wealth of Nations: How Management of Public Assets Can Boost or Bust Economic Growth
By Dag Detter and Stefan Folster
Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 244 pp.

This significant book makes two simple but important points. First, government-owned assets typically exceed public debts, often by a large margin. Of the 33 countries for which estimates exist, only in Belgium and El Salvador does sovereign debt significantly exceed public assets. In all the other countries, assets exceed debt by at least 50 percent—and probably by much more than that, since assets are usually understated for various reasons. The second point is that public assets are typically poorly managed and therefore represent a promising source of new government revenue, if only states could figure out how to take better advantage of them. Detter and Folster draw on many concrete examples, especially from Singapore and Sweden, to show how governments can use public assets to increase revenue, reduce costs, and improve services. Restructuring and rationalizing public commercial enterprises to make them more efficient and revenue-minded would considerably reduce the pressure on constrained government budgets all over the world.