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Infrastructure Quality and the Subsidy Trap

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  • Shaun McRae

Abstract

Electricity and water are often subsidized in developing countries to increase their affordability for low-income households. Ideally, such subsidies would create sufficient demand in poor neighborhoods to encourage private investment in their infrastructure. Instead, many regions receiving large subsidies have precarious distribution networks supplying users who never pay. Using a structural model of household electricity demand in Colombia, I predict the change in consumption and profits from upgrading low-quality electricity connections. I show that the existing subsidies, which provide greater transfers to areas with unreliable supply, deter investment to modernize infrastructure. Finally, I analyze alternative programs with stronger investment incentives. (JEL H23, H54, L94, L98, O12, O13)

Suggested Citation

  • Shaun McRae, 2015. "Infrastructure Quality and the Subsidy Trap," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(1), pages 35-66, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:105:y:2015:i:1:p:35-66
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20110572
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Irina Klytchnikova & Michael Lokshin, 2009. "Measuring Welfare Gains from Better Quality Infrastructure," Journal of Infrastructure Development, India Development Foundation, vol. 1(2), pages 87-109, December.
    2. Carlos Medina & Leonardo Fabio Morales, 2007. "Demanda por Servicios Públicos Domiciliarios en Colombia y Subsidios: Implicaciones sobre el Bienestar," BORRADORES DE ECONOMIA 004293, BANCO DE LA REPÚBLICA.
    3. Leonardo Morales & Carlos Medina, 2007. "Stratification and Public Utility Services in Colombia: Subsidies to Households or Distortion of Housing Prices?," ECONOMIA JOURNAL, THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION - LACEA, vol. 0(Spring 20), pages 41-99, January.
    4. Marcela Meléndez Arjona & Camila Casas & Pablo Medina, 2004. "Subsidios al consumo de los servicios públicos en Colombia ¿hacia donde movernos?," INFORMES DE INVESTIGACIÓN 003529, FEDESARROLLO.
    5. Kristin Komives & Vivien Foster & Jonathan Halpern & Quentin Wodon, 2005. "Water, Electricity, and the Poor : Who Benefits from Utility Subsidies?," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 6361.
    6. Ellen M. Pint, 1999. "Household Responses to Increased Water Rates during the California Drought," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 75(2), pages 246-266.
    7. Munasinghe, Mohan, 1980. " Costs Incurred by Residential Electricity Consumers Due to Power Failures," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(4), pages 361-369, March.
    8. Nesbakken, Runa, 2001. " Energy Consumption for Space Heating: A Discrete-Continuous Approach," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 103(1), pages 165-184, March.
    9. repec:hoo:wpaper:e-90-11 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Cardoso, Rafael Balbino & Nogueira, Luiz Augusto Horta & Haddad, Jamil, 2010. "Economic feasibility for acquisition of efficient refrigerators in Brazil," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 87(1), pages 28-37, January.
    11. Julie A. Hewitt & W. Michael Hanemann, 1995. "A Discrete/Continuous Choice Approach to Residential Water Demand under Block Rate Pricing," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 71(2), pages 173-192.
    12. Olmstead, Sheila M. & Michael Hanemann, W. & Stavins, Robert N., 2007. "Water demand under alternative price structures," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 181-198, September.
    13. Thomas MaCurdy & David Green & Harry Paarsch, 1990. "Assessing Empirical Approaches for Analyzing Taxes and Labor Supply," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(3), pages 415-490.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Catherine Wolfram & Orie Shelef & Paul Gertler, 2012. "How Will Energy Demand Develop in the Developing World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(1), pages 119-138, Winter.
    2. Carranza,Eliana & Meeks,Robyn, 2016. "Shedding light : understanding energy efficiency and electricity reliability," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7891, The World Bank.
    3. Raul Alberto Jimenez Mori, 2017. "Are Blackout Days Free of Charge?: Valuation of Individual Preferences for Improved Electricity Services," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 8424, Inter-American Development Bank.
    4. Nicholas Ryan, 2017. "The Competitive Effects of Transmission Infrastructure in the Indian Electricity Market," NBER Working Papers 23106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. repec:eee:enepol:v:113:y:2018:i:c:p:466-477 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Szabó, Andrea & Ujhelyi, Gergely, 2015. "Reducing nonpayment for public utilities: Experimental evidence from South Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 20-31.
    7. repec:eee:wdevel:v:102:y:2018:i:c:p:345-357 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Deng, Zhongqi & Song, Shunfeng & Chen, Yongjun, 2016. "Private participation in infrastructure project and its impact on the project cost," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 63-76.
    9. Zhang, Jun, 2016. "Carbon Tax Incidence and Household Energy Demand in the U.S," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, Boston, Massachusetts 235569, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    10. repec:eee:ecmode:v:68:y:2018:i:c:p:217-228 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. repec:eee:enepol:v:108:y:2017:i:c:p:55-69 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Antonio Estache, 2016. "Institutions for Infrastructure in Developing Countries: What We Know and the Lot We still Need to Know," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2016-27, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    13. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:5:p:1599-:d:146710 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Theresa Chaudhry, 2010. "Estimating Residential Electricity Demand Responses in Pakistan’s Punjab," Lahore Journal of Economics, Department of Economics, The Lahore School of Economics, vol. 15(Special E), pages 107-138, September.
    15. Michael Greenstone & B. Kelsey Jack, 2013. "Envirodevonomics: A Research Agenda for a Young Field," NBER Working Papers 19426, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Andrea Szabo & Gergely Ujhelyi, 2014. "Can Information Reduce Nonpayment for Public Utilities? Experimental Evidence from South Africa," Working Papers 2014-114-31, Department of Economics, University of Houston.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • H54 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Infrastructures
    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities
    • L98 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Government Policy
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products

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