Optimal endowments of public investment: an empirical analysis for the Spanish regions
Following Aschauer's (1989) influential contribution, the role of public investment has been stressed as a crucial factor leading to higher private capital productivity, which would lead in turn to higher growth rates. According to this author, the decline in productivity growth experienced by the US economy during the seventies, would explained to a great extent by the decrease in the provision of public infrastructures during that period. In this way, the next years have witnessed the appearance of a great amount of empirical literature that analysed the impact of public investment on economic growth. Although the first empirical studies made use of aggregate time series for countries, this approach has been also extended to a regional framework using panel data, obtaining results that were quantitatively lower than those found with aggregate data. The reason would be the spillover effects related to the regional endowments of public capital, whose effect would extend not only the own region, but also to the neighbouring regions. In any case, public infrastructure seems to play an important role in the growth process of regions that should not be neglected. On the other hand, the issue of the optimal endowments of public infrastructure has been hardly discussed. In a recent paper, Karras (1997) has developed a simple condition to assess whether public capital is optimally provided, namely, whether the marginal productivities of both private and public capital are equal or not. By estimating a simple growth equation for fifteen European countries during the period 1960-1992, he is unable to reject the null hypothesis that the marginal productivities of private and public capital are equal, so that government investment would be neither underprovided nor overprovided in the fifteen countries of his sample. In this paper we try to address this issue (i.e., whether the endowments of public investment are optimal or not) in a regional framework, using Spanish data for the period 1967-91. Unlike Karras (1997), who assumes that the production function exhibits constant returns to scale in all factors, we are able to generalise his condition without the need of this constraint. On the other hand, the Spanish economy can provide an interesting case of study, since it has experienced a sustained period of growth in the last forty years, which has been accompanied by a strong process of structural change. In particular, the establishment of new regional governments after the restoration of democracy in 1977, coupled with the strong increase experienced by public investment since them, are all of them elements that can justify the interest of the Spanish case for the objectives of this paper. Therefore, in this paper we will first derive the theoretical condition under which public capital would be optimally provided, and then we will provide an empirical application of the model, for the case of the Spanish regions during the period 1965-1995.
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