Does Infrastructure spending create jobs?

IMG_2454With monetary policy now so ineffective (bank rates are as low as they have ever been, in some countries negative, and yet they are not stimulating investment and spending) countries are increasingly looking to fiscal policy – that is direct spending by Governments. The expenditure of choice is infrastructure, and government infrastructure proposals are usually well received by the electorate because they are seen as creating jobs.

But proposals are normally vague on exactly what type of infrastructure spending is in mind, and the employment benefits of spending are often hyped up, so here are a few facts to bear in mind.

FACT: Out of every dollar spent in Australia, some proportion will go overseas in the form of imports. Some years ago, a government industrial economics report estimated that:

Maintenance generates 25% more employment than house construction and from 50% to 100% more employment than engineering construction. This is because:

  1. Maintenance is highly labour intensive, therefore there is little leakage of funds overseas to pay for imported elements
  2. House construction spending has a higher proportion of imports
  3. Engineering construction (i.e. infrastructure), with its specialised equipment and materials has an even higher proportion of imports.

FACT:  It is not infrastructure spending specifically that creates jobs but ANY government spending. Some types of spending, as indicated above, will create more jobs than others (and engineering construction such as infrastructure is on the low end of job creation).

FACT:  Just as putting money into the economy will stimulate job growth, it is also true that taking money out of the economy, e.g. by taxing us to pay for the infrastructure, or reducing other government spending for the same purpose, will reduce job growth.

FACT:  Low income earners spend more of any dollars they earn than high income earners.  So if we find the money for infrastructure by increasing taxes or reducing other spending on low income earners (which is what is happening at the moment) and we then spend that money on high income earners in infrastructure industries, this will itself reduce jobs rather than creating them.

So is infrastructure spending the jobs panacea so many believe it to be?

Public Infrastructure – Are we still a ‘fair go’ society?

756e4a1758e0160010da073e24c32a44(1)In this post, Geoff Webb picks up on the question of infrastructure access.

The concept of ‘universal service provision’ stands in stark contrast to the ‘user pays’ model which is so often cited as a fair method of delivering services to the community, but is it?

Australians have long taken pride in being considered a fairly egalitarian society with an attitude of a fair-go for all. For many years, this was reflected in public policy and in the provision of essential infrastructure to all Australians, whether they be located in major cities and urban areas or in remote and isolated locations.

The history of telephone connection fees in Australia exemplifies the point, where actual costs for individual connections could be several orders of magnitude higher for a connection in the bush compared to connection in town, but a standard connection fee was charged for both.  The community at large was, typically, fairly accepting of the idea that service charges, as long as they seemed reasonable, paid by the high number of users in the major metropolitan centres would effectively subsidise the relatively low numbers of remote and isolated services.

While critical infrastructure ownership and operation remained in government hands, Read More →

Infrastructure decisions we make – when we don’t think we are making any!

POLICE CAR- BLUE LIGHTSToday’s post is by Mark Neasbey of the Australian Centre for Value Management

We’ve all heard the line, usually around election cycles “crime is a concern to the community, crime rates are getting worse under this government – we can do better and we’ll put more police out there…blah, blah blah”. The proposal is never costed but always described as affordable and “there’ll be no tax increases to pay for this…blah, blah, blah”.

The extra police need somewhere to work – so we need more police stations. They need vehicles to respond to incidents and do their follow-up interviews etc. So we’ll need to buy more cars for them as well. So we’ve already locked-in some infrastructure commitments just bydeciding to employ more police. Well, Well, of course, the extra police are successful in arresting more suspects – that’s what you’ve employed them to do. These additional suspects need to be brought to justice. That means more appearances before magistrates and judges. But to get there they first must have legal representation and also more prosecutors – so the Director of Public Prosecutions needs more staff and most likely also needs more offices and support facilities. So a second infrastructure impact is becoming evident. The successful arrest and presentation of suspects before the courts could mean the need to appoint more magistrates and judges to deal with the increased number of cases, which in turn could mean the need for additional court rooms and related holding cells for the suspects. So we now have a third potential commitment for additional infrastructure.

But wait – there’s more…. Read More →

What makes public infrastructure public?

DSC06380Most writers who set out to define ‘public infrastructure’ give up!  I can understand why.

Is ownership the key?  Does public infrastructure need to be publicly owned?  This would make definition simpler.  But the very same infrastructure can pass from private to public and back to private again without changing the service provided as, for example, when the Adelaide Electric Company, which started as a private company was taken over by the Government as a war time measure, became part of the public company, the Electricity Trust of South Australia. The generation, distribution and retailing arms were then disaggregated, with some sold and some let under long term leases to the private sector.

 If not ownership, is ‘control’ the key?  Does government regulation substitute for ownership, and if so, what level of regulation is necessary – price control, worker safety, environmental protection? (A subsidiary, but important, question here is to what extent do the regulators work in the ‘public interest’ and to what extent as protectors of the incumbent agencies.

Then are we looking at ‘access’?   For example, rail track, roads, and depots within, say, Dupont Chemicals would be private infrastructure since its purpose would be to provide service only to Dupont and access to these facilities would be limited to Dupont.  Now we may be getting somewhere. Public infrastructure would then be infrastructure that the public has access to. They may have to pay for it, but the right to access would be open to all.

This places the focus on service, and access to service.  This, in turn, may overcome a problem that all asset managers and infrastructure planners have observed, when infrastructure is defined in terms of assets rather than service, we can have a wide differentiation. For example, some would limit infrastructure to transport systems (pipes, wires, roads, rail).  Others would include public buildings (government offices and schools and hospitals) but not private buildings (private offices, private schools and private hospitals). Some would differentiate between passive civil structures (infrastructure) and electrical and mechanical assets (plant and machinery). Others might make a differentiation between these elements but consider them all as subsets of infrastructure, along with fleet.  It all gets rather confusing.

Questions today are:

Is defining public infrastructure in terms of service and access to service useful?

Such a definition may open up new questions for exploration, what might these be?