Is the Private Sector All it is Cracked Up to Be? Myths, Reality, and Developmental Lessons for Africa
By M.H. Khalil Timamy
Over the years, neoclassical dogma has fostered the impression that the private sector, driven as it were by the imperative of self-interest and the calculus of the profit-motive, has an in-built tendency to realize superior economic performance and generate faster growth. Unlike the public sector that is epitomized as generally wallowing in rentseeking behavior and clientilism and therefore inherently mired in the morass of gross inefficiency, the private sector has been popularized as a model that is almost sacrosanct in its essence and virtually infallible in its operational vivacity. In short, it has been seen as everything that the public sector is not. Be that as it may, the dyed-in-the-wool neoclassical operators, western leaders, and institutions (e.g. IMF and the World Bank) have incessantly exhorted African governments to roll back state frontiers and rely increasingly on the private sector to provide goods and services. So loaded has been the rhetoric and so saturating has been the ideological bombardment that African policymakers have been evengelized to view the private sector and the market model as the only games in town. To the profoundly impressionistic, the market paradigm has assumed the status of Holy Writ, while the private sector has been presented as the guardian angel-an incorrigible force for the good-in the annals of human advancement. Unfortunately, incisive attempts to cut through the pork and dissect the empirical evidence have been few and far between. And because those at the receiving end have swallowed and regurgitated the conventional wisdom without much reflection, the mythology has tended to persist and acquire a dynamic life of its own. In the process, the serious limitations of the market and the disquieting reality about the opportunistic tendencies of private sector firms (e.g. rent-seeking behaviour, clientilism, under the counter wheeling and dealing, etc.) have rarely been brought into sharp relief.
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