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Reviewed by:
  • Private and Public Enterprise in Europe: Energy, Telecommunications and Transport, 1830-1990
  • John P. McKay
Private and Public Enterprise in Europe: Energy, Telecommunications and Transport, 1830-1990. By Robert Millward (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005) 351 pp. $90.00

Although economic historians have often highlighted the interaction of entrepreneurship and government policy in the economic development of European countries, Millward's study reformulates part of this general problem, examines it systematically, and breaks new ground in both its findings and its approach. As the title suggests, Millward examines three leading "infrastructure industries" in eight European countries from about 1830 to 1990. In addition to consistent treatment of Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway, and Sweden, the experiences of Belgium and Holland are included at points.

Assembling comparable cross-European data on ownership patterns and regulation, Millward applies an economist's understanding of the inherent characteristics of these infrastructure industries. He stresses that entrepreneurs needed valuable rights of way from states and cities, which imposed regulations as part of the bargain in order to deal with the monopoly problem or to secure other goals, such as economic development or universal service. Joining the quantitative data with a surprisingly detailed qualitative narrative, Millward analyzes patterns of regulation and their relationship to changing patterns of private, semiprivate, and public enterprise in the different countries and sectors. An interrelated theme is the enormous impact of technological change, which gave birth to new sectors with new regulatory issues. Millward's breadth is impressive, although by no means exhaustive, as he readily admits.

The most striking conclusion is that socialist ideology had little to do with the growing prominence of public enterprise in energy, telecommunications, and transportation, even after 1945. Rather, a multitude of divergent factors and practical considerations carried the day. For example, the new Belgian state built railroads to promote national unity, while those in Germany were nationalized early to please the military. Municipalities often took over profitable utilities in order to secure income and avoid tax increases. Millward also argues provocatively that public enterprises performed as efficiently as their private counterparts after 1945. Economists, historians, and political scientists will find much of this discussion interesting.

More importantly, this intriguing study suggests the coming of age for a new model for scholarship on Europe. Economic historians of Europe have often practiced some form of comparative history. One school, in the grand tradition of Gerschenkron or Landes, featured the leading countries (Britain, France, Germany, and sometimes Russia), while another analyzed statistical series, as in the comparative work of Maddison or Bairoch on economic growth.1 Millward's approach is different. [End Page 267] He combines his expert knowledge of Britain and excellent French-language materials with a wealth of all-important "national" studies on different countries by European scholars who interact and publish at least a good portion of their findings in English. The result is a promising third path—the in-depth comparative synthesis that is truly all-inclusive. Similar results on other problems in European history seem possible.

John P. McKay
University of Illinois, Urbana


1. See, for example, Alexander Gersckhenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, Mass., 1962); David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (New York, 1969); Angus Maddison, Economic Growth in the West: Comparative Experience in Europe and North America (New York, 1967); Paul Bairoch, "International Industrialization Levels from 1750 to 1980," Journal of European Economic History, XI (1982), 269-333.



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