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Submitted by Jose de Luna-Martinez on
Since the late 80s, I have been hearing the arguments presented by Prof Calomiris against state-owned banks. But since then a lot of things have changed. As documented by C. Trivelli, ALIDE and others, in various countries there is a growing trend to move state-owned banks aways from first tier operations into second-tier operations, to narrow their mandates, to apply the same regulation that is applicable to commercial banks, and to develop better systems to monitor and evaluate their performance. Moroeover, during the past financial crisis, some state-owned banks played a positive role in alleviating liquidity and credit constraints. Perhaps all these recent developments should challenge the way we look at state-owned banks. Prof. Calomiris refers to state-owned banks as if they were an homogenous group of financial institutions. Reality, however, is much more complex. Across countries and within countries, the group of state-owned banks shows enormous differences in terms of their mandates, performance, corporate governance arrangements, business models, funding structures, and the way they are regulated and supervised. Some institutions -- like the World Bank itself (yes, we are also owned by states), Korea Development Bank, FIRA, and many others that participants in this blog have mentioned -- have a strong performance record. The problems highlighted by Prof. Calomiris would hardly apply to this group of state-owned financial institutions. In my view, it would be useful to move the debate away from ideological considerations into more pragmatic discussions. What are the specific factors, or combination of factors, that have allowed some state-owned banks to perform well and maintain their soundness and profitability over the years? Is it really impossible for low-income countries to have a well administered state-owned bank? Who are the champions and what can we learn from them?