We revisit the public banks debate, survey the theoretical arguments and test the robustness (and expand) the existing empirical evidence. While we find some support for the view that public banks do not allocate credit optimally, we also report indicative evidence that they exert a positive influence on private bank efficiency, and may contribute to reduce credit procyclicality. Ultimately, we find that the recent criticism to public banks has generally been based on inconclusive cross-country evidence. More specific bank-level research is still needed to substantiate a case for or against public banks in developing economies.