European governments and the infrastructure industries, c.1840 1914
In this article the economic organisation of the infrastructure industries of transport, communications and energy in the period 1840 1914 is analysed and the role of government evaluated. The article attempts to explain the differences in government involvement across mainly Western European countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Regulation via the concession system, municipal ownership, state guarantees of bond interest, profit sharing and nationalisation can all be found. In local networks for gas, electricity and tramways the pattern of regulation was determined by the structure and powers of local government and by fiscal considerations, such as the need to generate trading profits as a non-tax revenue for those town councils seeking funds for their mounting public health programmes. At the national level, central government objectives with respect to economic growth and political unification were pursued by the use of rate-of-return guarantees and subsidies to railway companies. State ownership was to be found only when speed in construction was paramount or when network segments were especially unprofitable or, and this applied also to telegraphs, when there was a very strong desire to control information and the flow of goods and persons. Neither a distrust of capitalism nor the advent of municipal socialism were motivating forces behind public ownership.
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