Article | Journal of Public Economics | June 2012

Reality versus Propaganda in the Formation of Beliefs about Privatization

by Rafael Di Tella, Sebastian Galiani and Ernesto Schargrodsky


Argentina privatized most public utilities during the 1990s but re-nationalized the main water company in 2006. We study beliefs about the benefits of the privatization of water services amongst low- and middle-income groups immediately after the 2006 nationalization. Negative opinions about the privatization prevail. These are particularly strong amongst households that did not benefit from the privatization and amongst households that were reminded of the government's negative views about the privatization. A person's beliefs in the benefits of the water privatization were almost 30% more negative (relative to other privatizations) if his/her household did not gain access to water after the privatization. Similarly, a person's view of the water privatization (relative to other privatizations) was 16% more negative if he/she was read a vignette with some of the negative statements about the water privatization that Argentina's president expressed during the nationalization process. Interestingly, the effect of the vignette on households that gained water is insignificant, while it is largest (and significant) amongst households that did not gain water during the privatization. This suggests that propaganda was persuasive when it had a basis in reality.

Keywords: Privatization; Business and Community Relations; Household Characteristics; Government and Politics; Business and Government Relations; Public Ownership; Utilities Industry; Argentina;


Di Tella, Rafael, Sebastian Galiani, and Ernesto Schargrodsky. "Reality versus Propaganda in the Formation of Beliefs about Privatization." Journal of Public Economics 96, nos. 5-6 (June 2012): 553–567.