Accepted paper:

The mixed performances of utilities in Sub-Saharan African low-income economies: the constraints on the concept of 'public'

Author:

Alice Nicole Sindzingre (SOAS, University of London/CEPN, University Paris-13)

Paper short abstract:

Via the example of African low-income economies, the paper argues that the mixed success of public utilities stems from inaccurate theoretical analysis and policies in view of geographical, taxation and infrastructural constraints, public goods in the context of poverty and policy externalisation.

Paper long abstract:

Though the post-WWII period conceived development as the outcome of active public policies, the 1980s witnessed the spreading at a global scale of a theoretical paradigm viewing state intervention in the economy as detrimental for growth, with as a background the assumption that excessive public spending and fiscal deficits reduce growth. The associated public policies were thus liberalisation and privatisation, which were uniformly conducted across the world ('austerity'), and in particular in low-income economies, for example in Sub-Saharan Africa/SSA, said to display low level of fiscal revenues and therefore low ability for the state to finance public utilities. Yet even mainstream economics now underscores the existence of market failures and externalities, which justify the public provision or regulation of services, while the developing countries that enjoyed spectacular growth ('developmental states') have relied on interventionist policies, which have been less aiming at an 'ownership' of the economy via publicly-owned utilities (with the risk of fiscal deficit) than the provision of incentives. At the empirical level, the outcomes of the privatisation of state-owned utilities have been mixed, particularly in SSA where the latter' public ownership has been a core of post-independence policies, even within the paradigm of service 'unbundling' that aimed at addressing these mixed outcomes. Via the example of SSA low-income economies, the paper argues that this mixed success stems from inaccurate theoretical analysis and policies in view of key characteristics of these economies: geographical, taxation and infrastructural constraints, public goods shaped by poverty and policy externalisation.

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Non-existing public utilities that disrupt… and existing public utilities that are disrupted