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Lenin didn't invent state-owned enterprises

September 16, 2017


I recently had an interesting discussion with a colleague who traced the origins of state-ownership to Lenin and the Soviet Union of the 1920s. Yet, from my own knowledge of European history, that didn't seem to be right. So we had an interesting discussion for which I did a bit of web-research that I want to share here.

In the middle ages, the merchants were effectively in control of city governments in many Hanse cities in Northern Europe. The city government of Amsterdam seems to have been the first state entity, as far as I could trace, that established a bank, namely the Amsterdamsche Wisselbank in 1609. Similarly, the city of Hamburg established in 1619 its own bank, the Hamburger Bank, which was operating until 1875.

During the period of mercantilism, dukes and kings in continental Europe aimed to strengthen their national wealth by promoting economic activity, and that included the creation of what effectively were state-owned enterprises. I am naturally most familiar with the history of my home state of Braunschweig (which was merged into Lower saxony in 1946). Duke Karl I., who governed the state from 1735 to 1780 undertook major initiative to revive the economy, and thus founded in 1744 a glass manufacturer (privatized in 1830), in 1747 the porcelain manufacturer Fürstenberg, the local fire insurance company (Landesbrandversicherungsanstalt) and in 1765 the herzogliches Leyhaus, which soon became the Braunschweigische Staatsbank - the first state-owned bank in Germany according to local sources. It was merged into the NORD/LB in the 1980s - which still is in state ownership.

I presume that similar initiatives were common elsewhere but I am not familiar with the local history of all principalities of Germany - there were just too many.  A famous example is the porcelain manufacture in Meissen, which was established in 1710 by the Kind of Saxony. Meanwhile, in France, where the philosophy of mercantilism was very strong, the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins was founded in 1607 as private company, was controlled by the King from 1667, and operates since 1792 as a state enterprise. 

In the 19th century, when private industry led the catch-up of catch-up with the industrial revolution started in England, state ownership also played a role in infrastructure, notably the railways.  The first railway in Germany was private, and connected in the 1834 from Nuremberg to Fürth. Only a few years later, it was again entrepreneurial duke of Braunschweig who build the first state railway opened in 1938, namely between the cities of Braunschweig and Wolfenbüttel. It was acquired by the Prussian State Railway in the 1960. In Prussia, which then covered most of Northern Germany, the earliest railways were private, then some were build by the state. In the 1880s the remaining private railways were acquired and operationally integrated such that the whole railway system was under control of the Prussian state (since 1871 a state within “Germany”) In 1920, the German railways were integrated nationwide, and most of the railway network has remained in state ownership ever since.

So, state ownership was certainly not invented by Lenin and the Communist Party in the 1920s. What the examples show is that the state ownership has a long history. Entrepreneurial kings and dukes have used to to create businesses deemed strategically important to the nation, be it infrastructure or development of new industries. Of course, Lenin had a wholly different conception of state ownership with the idea that all ‘productive assets’ should be controlled by the party and not by private ‘capitalists’.

If we look at state ownership in emerging economies today - from Singapore to China - it looks much more similar to the periods of mercantilism of the 1700s or of national economic catch-up in the late 1800s, than with the state ownership as conceptualized by Lenin. Thus, in most cases, state ownership is used to complement rather that substitute a market economy.



Chinese Multinationals are becoming more diverse

March 27, 2016


In the recent wave of Chinese overseas investment, the patterns are becoming more diverse along many dimensions, including the types of firms investing overseas, the sectors of investment and the types of projects they undertake. In two blogs, I identify some of the emergent trends:

  • Private Equity Helps Chinese MNEs Beat a Path to Europe (Forbes, March 25, 2016) identifies private equity funds as a key intermediary facilitating major Chinese acquisitions in Europe. Specifically, I observe a good fit between the demand for acquisition targets from Chinese firms, and the firms offered for sale by private equity investors. Moreover, I illustrate the typical pattern over time for the successful case of Kiekert, the German automotive supplier providing locking systems for cars.

  • Aggressive acquisition: The Next Stage of Globalization for Chinese Companies? (Economist Intelligence Unit, March 24, 2016) identifies five recent trends in terms of target industries, and their variations across Europe. For example, technology seeking investment focuses on machinery, automotive and green technologies, and is geographically concentrated between Southern Germany and Northern Italy.

In addition, I shared my views on these questions with a regional newspaper in Germany, which was interested in Chinese multinationals after two acquisitions - Schimmel and EEW - in the local area. For a change, the Braunschweiger Zeitung actually printed the entire interview (in German) rather than just a single sentence. 



A Wave of Chinese Acquisitions in Europe

February 12, 2016


In early 2016, a wave of Chinese acquisitions is taking place in Europe. I have been following this development and commenting on it in several blogs:

In addition, several journalists asked for my analysis or opinion on Chinese multinationals, some of whom quoted my views, including The Economist (January 15, 2016) and Wall Street Journal (January 15, 2016)  and well as German-language newspapers like Frankfurter Rundschau, Wiener Zeitung, Weserkurier and Badische Zeitung.






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Note: C-numbers link to chapters in: M.W. Peng & K.E. Meyer, 2011 International Business, London: Cengage.




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