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Roads to Prosperity? Assessing the Link between Public Capital and Productivity

  • John G. Fernald

Does the positive correlation between infrastructure and productivity reflect causation? If so, in which direction? The author finds that, when growth in roads (the largest component of infrastructure) changes, productivity growth changes disproportionately in U.S. industries with more vehicles. That vehicle-intensive industries benefit more from road-building suggests that roads are productive. At the margin, however, road investments do not appear unusually productive. Intuitively, the interstate system was highly productive, but a second one would not be. Road-building thus explains much of the productivity slowdown through a one-time, unrepeatable productivity boost in the 1950s and 1960s.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.89.3.619
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 89 (1999)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 619-638

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:89:y:1999:i:3:p:619-638
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.89.3.619
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  1. Morrison, Catherine J & Schwartz, Amy Ellen, 1996. "State Infrastructure and Productive Performance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(5), pages 1095-1111, December.
  2. Berndt, Ernst & Hansson, Bengt, 1992. "Measuring the Contribution of Capital in Sweden," Working Paper Series 365, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
  3. Basu, S. & Fernald, J.G., 1993. "Are Apparent Productive Spillovers a Figment of Specification Error," Papers 93-22, Michigan - Center for Research on Economic & Social Theory.
  4. Gramlich, Edward M, 1994. "Infrastructure Investment: A Review Essay," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 32(3), pages 1176-96, September.
  5. Holtz-Eakin, Douglas, 1994. "Public-Sector Capital and the Productivity Puzzle," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 76(1), pages 12-21, February.
  6. Nadiri, M. Ishaq & Mamuneas, Theofanis P., 1991. "The Effects of Public Infrastructure and R&D Capital on the Cost Structure and Performance of U.S. Manufacturing Industries," Working Papers 91-57, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  7. Alicia H. Munnell, 1990. "How does public infrastructure affect regional economic performance?," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 34, pages 69-112.
  8. Robert Ford & Pierre Poret, 1991. "Infrastructure and Private-Sector Productivity," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 91, OECD Publishing.
  9. Kocherlakota, Narayana R & Yi, Kei-Mu, 1996. "A Simple Time Series Test of Endogenous vs. Exogenous Growth Models: An Application to the United States," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 78(1), pages 126-34, February.
  10. David Alan Aschauer, 1990. "Why is infrastructure important?," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 34, pages 21-68.
  11. Holtz-Eakin, Douglas, 1993. "State-specific estimates of state and local government capital," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 185-209, April.
  12. Basu, Susanto & Fernald, John G, 1997. "Returns to Scale in U.S. Production: Estimates and Implications," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(2), pages 249-83, April.
  13. Susanto Basu & Miles S. Kimball, 1997. "Cyclical Productivity with Unobserved Input Variation," NBER Working Papers 5915, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Zvi Griliches, 1998. "Productivity, R&D, and the Data Constraint," NBER Chapters, in: R&D and Productivity: The Econometric Evidence, pages 347-374 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Aschauer, David Alan, 1989. "Is public expenditure productive?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 177-200, March.
  16. Berndt, Ernst R & Hansson, Bengt, 1992. " Measuring the Contribution of Public Infrastructure Capital in Sweden," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 94(0), pages S151-68, Supplemen.
  17. Wolff, Edward N, 1996. "The Productivity Slowdown: The Culprit at Last? Follow-Up on Hulten and Wolff," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(5), pages 1239-52, December.
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