Government Ownership of Private Companies

There is a move afloat that, as part of a (supposedly) temporary support measure during the current Wuhan Virus situation, the Federal government should inject money into troubled businesses by taking equity stakes—buying shares of stocks—in them.

As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, that’s a bad idea, and it illustrated the dangers by describing the failure of Japan’s moves in this regard.

As it happens, we have a domestic example of the dangers of governments buying private company stocks: CALPERS. That huge (State) government pension fund has, for all the best reasons, invested in a broad range of American companies, and it has invested in some of them heavily.

Like all significant owners, CALPERS is using the influences of its stakes to push those companies to act on its imperatives. Unfortunately, CALPERS’ imperatives are government imperatives, and these are not necessarily sound business imperatives.

The Federal government doesn’t need to expand that negative risk.

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