4: Capitalism and State Ownership Models

Private ownership of the means of production is essential in Marx’s definition of capitalism. Norway is an outlier in the Western world with its extensive state ownership, particularly in listed companies. The state is a direct owner of about 25 per cent of the values listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and controls companies that account for almost half of the market value. The ownership is mainly in large companies, and can thus be seen as a solution to the challenges regarding ownership and control in large companies (Berle and Means, 1932) Different countries chose different paths to accommodate these challenges. In the US, and later in Great Britain, ownership in large companies was diffused. This diluted the owners’ control and paved the way for managerial capitalism. On the European continent, ownership was more concentrated, with individuals, families and/or business groups staying in control over the large and capital-intensive companies, often by using cross-holdings, pyramid ownership and/or dual-class shares. Hence they controlled companies, without providing the corresponding capital. The Norwegian state ownership does not fit easily into either of the two models. On the one hand, it is a kind of concentrated ownership. On the other hand, the state ownership shares features with the Anglo-Saxon model, for instance with a challenging agency problem. Norway has also settled for a market-conforming state ownership model, respecting minority shareholders and ensuring that shareholder value is at the top of the agenda (Christensen, 2018; Ministry of Trade, 2020b).

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