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Book description

Markets are taken as the norm in economics and in much of political and media discourse. But if markets are superior why does the public sector remain so large? Avner Offer provides a distinctive new account of the effective temporal limits on private, public, and social activity. Understanding the Private–Public Divide accounts for the division of labour between business and the public sector, how it changes over time, where the boundaries ought to run, and the harm that follows if they are violated. He explains how finance forces markets to focus on short-term objectives and why business requires special privileges in return for long-term commitment. He shows how a private sector policy bias leads to inequality, insecurity, and corruption. Integrity used to be the norm and it can be achieved again. Only governments can manage uncertainty in the long-term interests of society, as shown by the challenge of climate change.


‘Family, school, railways? What do they have in common? They cannot be run well, or at all, as private for-profit enterprises and yet they are crucial for a good life. In this well-written and tightly argued book Avner Offer brings arguments to delineate the areas that naturally belong to the market and to the state. At the time when the neoliberal version of capitalism is widely questioned, this books proposes a new set of answers.'

Branko Milanovic - author of Global Inequality and Capitalism, Alone.

‘Avner Offer is, to my mind, the leading thinker on the Left from within the academic community of economists and historians. He is not afraid to think in radical terms, as he has shown in relation to an impressive range of issues, including colonialism, war, consumerism and, here, the state. His latest book is a must-read, imbued with both history and practical economics, and couldn't be more policy relevant. If you agree with Offer, it will add fire to your existing arsenal; if you disagree, it will represent a much-needed challenge. Either way, Offer's voice needs – and deserves – to be heard.'

Victoria Bateman - author of The Sex Factor: How Women made the West Rich

‘As a scholar and as a citizen Avner Offer always puts Truth in the first place. He asks thorny questions that pierce to the heart of things. His judgements are so deeply grounded and so carefully considered that they seldom allow any appeal. Understanding the Private-Public Divide shows Offer's passions for veracity, for equality under the law, for social justice, for community responsibility and for a commensurate distribution of wealth: in a word his humanity. This immediately topical book goes to the heart of the contemporary crisis of untruthfulness, injustice, mistrust and disorder. Complacent satisfaction in contemporary democracy is more and more, he shows, a cloak for corruption and criminality.'

Richard Davenport-Hines - author of Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes 

‘The Covid pandemic has exposed the inadequacy of individualism and the market mechanism as answers to a global catastrophe. Avner Offer, one of the most imaginative and thought-provoking of economic historians, shows how this is just one example of a failure to understand the proper roles of the public and private sectors. His book should be read by every economist, politician and journalist confronting the current economic position and the threat of climate change.'

Roderick Floud - author of An Economic History of the English Garden

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  • Chapter 1 - Patient Capital
    pp 11-42


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