Human and physical infrastructure : public investment and pricing policies in developing countries
Almost by definition, the basis for development is infrastructure - whether services for human infrastructure (health, education, nutrition) or physical infrastructure (transport, energy, water). Although the infrastructure sectors are diverse, what they have in common is that public policy has had a great deal to do with how these services are provided and financed in almost all countries. The author reviews the recent literature on two key aspects of that involvement: investment and pricing. While the quality of the econometric evidence varies, recent literature reinforces the view that human and physical infrastructure are critical for economic growth and the reduction of poverty. And the state is recognized as playing a key role in ensuring the efficient, equitable allocation of resources for infrastructure. Despite many sound theoretical reasons for such public involvement, however, recent studies have shown that it leaves much to be desired in efficiency and equity. One symptom is underinvestment in key subsectors that have high economic returns and that help the poor the most, such as primary education and rural health clinics, in relation to more expensive interventions, such as tertiary education and urban hospitals. Another common malaise is the poor use of scarce resources, leading to low quality (students learning little) and reliability (irregular power and water flows), poor maintenance (dilapilated roads), and inappropriate input use (too many school adminstrators or health workers and not enough books or drugs in producing education health outcomes). Just as market failures necessitate government intervention in the infrastructure sectors, so government failures should be considered in deciding the depth and extent of that intervention. The literature has made some advances in diagnosing these problems in poor countries and proposing solutions. But information gaps remain, particularly in developing robust methodologies for: 1) making intersectoral comparisons across the wide range of infrastructure services; 2) crafting more diverse policies about the public-private balance in infrastructure investment, depending on the nature of"public goods"characteristics for various types of infrastructure services, or even across activities for the same service (for example, power transmission versus distribution); and 3) taking issues of political economy into account, such as the vested interests of those with large financial interests in infrastructure. The author also highlights public pricing as a policy initiative that has recently gotten much attention.After briefly reviewing the basic concepts of pricing, he focuses on the literature about pricing reform. Most commonly, the public sector is the main provider of infrastructure services, usually free or at subsidized prices. But the recent literature has aired a rethinking of the balance between public and private financing of infrastructure. The debate in this area is often heated. Health and education are traditionally provided free and some recent literature argues for positive prices, at least for higher tiers of service. The principle of public pricing has been more widely accepted in transport, energy, and to a lesser extent water, but often the levels are too low and do not provide the appropriate incentives for efficient and equitable use.
|Date of creation:||30 Apr 1994|
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