Rent Seeking and Government Ownership of Firms
An Application to China's Township–Village Enterprises
Using its control of regulated inputs, a government agency extracts rents from a manager who undertakes an investment. Such government rent-seeking activity leads to a typical hold-up problem. Government ownership serves as a second-best commitment mechanism, through which the government agency will restrain itself from the rent-seeking activity and may even offer the manager assistance in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. This mechanism works at a cost, however, as government ownership also compromises ex post managerial incentives and creates distortion in resource allocation. Nevertheless, government ownership Pareto dominates private ownership under certain conditions. These conditions correspond to a host of stylized empirical observations concerning local-government-owned firms, i.e., township–village enterprises, during China's transition to a market economy.