Nationalization is the act of taking assets into state ownership. Usually it refers to private assets being nationalised, but sometimes it may be assets owned by other levels of government, such as municipalities. Similarly, the opposite of nationalization is usually privatization, but sometimes it may be municipalization. Nationalization that happens after a previous privatization is often called renationalization.
A key issue in nationalization is whether the private owner is properly compensated for the value of the institution. The most controversial nationalizations are those where no compensation is paid or an amount unreasonably below the likely market rate (expropriation). Many nationalizations through expropriation have come after revolutions, especially communist ones.
The cost of legally buying a large business is such that many legal nationalizations have happened when firms of national importance run into trouble (close to bankruptcy), and could be acquired by the government for little or no money. A classic example is the UK nationalization in the 1970s of the car-maker British Leyland. At other times governments have felt it important to gain control of institutions and industries of strategic economic importance, such as banks or railways, or of important industries struggling economically. This policy was sometimes known as ensuring government control of the "commanding heights" of the economy, to enable it to manage the economy better in terms of long-term development and medium-term stability. The extent of this policy declined in the 1980s and 1990s as governments increasingly privatised industries that had been nationalised, replacing their strategic economic influence with use of the tax system and of interest rates.
- Britain - British Coal , British Gas, British Petroleum, British Rail, British Steel, British Leyland, British Airways and the telephones division of the Post Office (now British Telecom). All the aforementioned were privatised during the Conservative period in power from 1979-1997. Many - particularly British Steel and British Leyland - fared poorly whilst nationalised. Conversely, British Rail (broken up into multiple parts including train operators, train owners, and a track owner; the latter now effectively renationalised as Network Rail after near-bankruptcy) fared poorly after privatisation.
- Canada - Canadian National Railways, created from several systems nation-wide following their bankruptcy during and after the First World War. Nationalization of electricity during the Quiet Revolution of Quebec, by minister René Lévesque and the Lesage government, to create Hydro-Quebec.
United States - Amtrak, a government corporation created for the express purpose of relieving American railroads of their legal obligation to carry intercity passengers. They were trying to get out of this obligation anyway, but by taking over their passenger rail assets, Amtrak was able to keep the passenger trains running.
- Nationalization of the oil industry in numerous countries, including Kuwait, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.
- Companies in Cuba (the USA has long complained about these nationalizations).
Zimbabwe's nationalisation of its food distribution infrastructure.
- 1918, 1948. All manufacturing enterprises in the Soviet Union, in 1918, as well as in other countries of the Soviet bloc (for example, Czechoslovakia in 1948).
- 1918. Many retailing enterprises in the Soviet Union.
- 1944. Renault (seized from Louis Renault after WWII for his collaboration with Nazi Germany). Renault was successful whilst nationalised and remains successful today, after having been privatised in 1996.
- 1969. Nationalisation of banks in India.
- 1982. The Paris business of M&A advisory firm Rothschild was nationalized and renamed.