March, 2019

Public-private partnership as remedy for crumbling infrastructure

Is this hope looking for a reason?
  • Richard Wagner

    Distinguished Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
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It has become commonplace to describe publicly provided infrastructure as being in a sorry state and to advance public-private partnership as a possible remedy. This essay adopts a skeptical but not a cynical posture toward those claims. The paper starts by reviewing the comparative properties of markets and politics within a theory of budgeting where the options are construction and maintenance. This analytical point of departure explains how incongruities between political and market action can favor construction over maintenance. In short, political entities can engage in an implicit form of public debt by reducing maintenance spending to support other budgetary items. This implicit form of public debt does not manifest in higher interest rates but rather manifests in crumbling bridges and other infrastructure due to the transfer of maintenance into other budgetary activities.