Nationalization

Written By:
Paul Tracy
Updated August 5, 2020

What is Nationalization?

Nationalization occurs when a country's government seizes the assets of corporations or resources without paying for those assets.

How Does Nationalization Work?

Let's say Country XYZ elects John Doe. A year before he is due for re-election, John Doe dissolves the ineffective representative houses of government and issues an executive order abolishing presidential term limits. In this way, he is able to assume a dictatorial form of leadership.

Doe then decides that the people of Country XYZ should not have to pay for food. Accordingly, he nationalizes the food manufacturing companies, including Kraft. In doing so, he seizes Kraft's factories, cash accounts, manufacturing equipment and other assets but does not provide compensation to Kraft's investors for those assets. He then appoints a person to run and manage the company on behalf of the government.

The Gold Reserve Act nationalized gold and fixed its price. The Gold Reserve Act was notable because in an attempt to end the Great Depression, it fixed the value of the U.S. Treasury’s gold holdings. By legislating that $1 was worth 15.715 grains of gold, a troy ounce of gold could buy $35 rather than $20.67. By devaluing the dollar this way, the value of the Treasury’s gold increased by $2.81 billion.

After seizing everybody’s gold, the Gold Reserve Act allowed the Treasury to then set the price of gold at $35. The Treasury used the profits to create an Exchange Stabilization Fund, which (even today) allows it to trade foreign currency in order to stabilize the exchange value of U.S. currency without affecting domestic money supply or requiring Congressional approval

Why Does Nationalization Matter?

Nationalization is a controversial action, and most investors in nationalized companies will say that it is basically theft. However, when governments nationalize industries or companies, they usually do so in an attempt to control prices for the products those industries produce, are interested in "redistributing wealth," or control the expenses associated with production in that industry. It is most common in developing economies and is sometimes a way to grab power.