Privatization And Poverty: The Distributional Impact of Utility Privatization
This article examines the effects on poverty of privatization, an impact to which donors have given little attention in their concern with efficiency and markets. The analysis of the distributional impact of privatization activities draws on empirical cases in the utilities sector in a wide range of developing economies, principally in Africa and Latin America. After a critical consideration of the World Bank position on privatization strategies, and the arguments presented by donors on the pro-poor effects of these economic reforms, the article turns to the negative distributional effects. It is argued that privatization has demonstrably damaged the poor, whether through loss of employment and income, or through exclusion from, or reduced access to, basic services. This is mainly because private firms are principally concerned with profits, prices and costs, and are highly selective as to sectors and types of consumer. Meanwhile, the weakness of governance and regulatory capacity in many developing countries lead to poor control of market abuses. The article concludes by proposing that donors should take more account of local variations in state-market relations, and be prepared to give consideration to alternative economic strategies where privatization is not working as intended. Copyright 2002 CIRIEC.
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