In an influential article, La Porta et al. (2002) argue that public ownership of banks is associated with lower GDP growth. We show that this relationship does not hold for all countries, but depends on a country's initial conditions, in particular its financial development and political institutions. Public ownership is harmful only if a country has low financial development and low institutional quality. The negative impact of public ownership on growth fades quickly as the financial and political system develops. In highly developed countries, we find no or even positive effects. Policy conclusions for individual countries are likely to be misleading if such heterogeneity is ignored.