Detter shows how better management of government assets can boost public prosperity. In The Public Wealth of Nations, he demonstrates that central governments own commercial assets worth at least USD 75 trillion—on the same order of magnitude as annual global GDP and comfortably higher than global public debt. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: if one were to include local and regional governments that number would be many times higher. If central governments managed their assets better, they should easily generate additional annual returns of 3 trillion US dollars.

The problem lies in knowing what these assets are: even sophisticated economies like Britain’s fail to have consolidated register of all of its commercial real estate, land and productive forest etc. What Detter called for was, as Tim Montgomerie put it, a latter-day Domesday Book, where every asset is accounted for.

In order to improve the quality of asset management, Detter urged vesting all commercial assets in a National Wealth Fund which would professionally manage public assets using the appropriate tools and framework of the private sector. In this way, he argued, the taxpayer could reach beyond the ‘phoney war’ of private vs public to benefit.

An independent National Wealth Fund would insulate decision-making from short-term political cycle. Politicians, he said, should run the country, but managers should run communal assets. He suggested a single, ring-fenced, corporate vehicle owning all commercial assets: consolidating the assets under a single entity would allow for the production of an integrated business plan.

Better management of public assets would curb clientelism, corruption and other democratic perversions, Detter claimed. The result would be a better government, and a wealthier one.

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About the Speakers

Dag Detter, Managing Director of Whetstone and former President of Stattum, the Swedish government holding company, and a Director at the Ministry of Industry. He is the co-author of The Public Wealth of Nations: How Management of Public Assets Can Boost or Bust Economic Growth, which he wrote with Stefan Fölster, DPhil, Director of the Reform Institute in Stockholm and Associate Professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Tim Montgomerie is Senior Fellow. He leads the Legatum Institute’s ‘Vision of Capitalism’ programme, launched in January 2015. Montgomerie is a weekly columnist for The Times and writes regularly for other publications including the CapX website. In 2005 he founded and edited it until 2013. His forthcoming book, The Good Right, explores the future of international conservatism and builds on the work of the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank he established with Iain Duncan Smith in 2004. He began his career at the Bank of England and worked for the Conservative Christian Fellowship from 1998 to 2003.