Kazunobu Hayakawa, Hans Koster, Takatoshi Tabuchi, Jacques-François Thisse, 08 April 2021

The economic and social consequences of investments in transport infrastructure generate heated academic and policy debates because they typically involve costly investments that are supposed to yield high payoffs. Particularly telling examples of large transport infrastructure investments are investments in high-speed rail. This column shows that the Shinkansen has had a substantial effect on Japan’s spatial distribution of employment. The relative position of municipalities within the network and their underlying location fundamentals are essential in understanding why the effects of an extensive infrastructure are positive or negative at the local level.  

Roberto Bonfatti, Steven Poelhekke, 03 December 2020

Africa’s interior-to-coast roads are well placed to export natural resources, but not to support regional trade. Are they the optimal response to geography and comparative advantage, or the result of suboptimal political distortions? This column investigates the political determinants of road paving in West Africa in 1965–2014. Autocracies focused more than democracies on connecting metal and mineral deposits to ports, resulting in more interior-to-coast networks. This deposit-to-port bias was only present for deposits located on the elite’s ethnic homeland, suggesting that Africa’s interior-to-coast roads were the result of ethnic favouritism by autocracies.

Peter Egger, Gabriel Loumeau, Nicole Loumeau, 03 November 2020

China’s transport infrastructure network has experienced unprecedented growth, both in terms of length and quality, in the last two decades. Using hand-collected and digitised data on the Chinese road and railway networks over time, this column discusses the magnitude and the long-run consequences of the country’s transport infrastructure changes. It finds that increased network centrality fosters regional convergence in population and, to a lesser extent, in real per-capita incomes. Facilitated goods transport and increased technology diffusion contribute the lion’s share of these effects.

Francois de Soyres, Alen Mulabdic, Siobhan Murray, Nadia Rocha, Michele Ruta, 27 November 2018

The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by China in 2013, consists primarily of a series of infrastructure projects aimed at improving connectivity on a trans-continental scale. This column presents new evidence on the potential impact of the initiative on trade costs. It shows that through a reduction in shipment times, the initiative could substantially reduce trade costs for participating countries, with positive spillover effects on the rest of the world. 

Coen Teulings, Ioulia Ossokina, 23 April 2018

Concerns are often raised about increasing spatial segregation by education level in societies. This column uses a study in the Netherlands to show that as preferences for locally provided public goods with a high fixed cost, such as train stations, differ widely between educational groups, spatial sorting by education and an increase in local density can actually raise the social benefits from investments in such infrastructure. However, since the highly educated benefit disproportionally, this leads to serious political economy problems.

Riccardo Crescenzi, Marco Di Cataldo, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 11 April 2017

Transport infrastructure investment is a cornerstone of growth-promoting strategies around the world. However, investment in new infrastructure is not always conducive to stronger economic performance. This column argues that the lack of positive economic returns may be due to institutional failures mitigating the growth effects of public capital expenditures. In contexts marked by weak and inefficient governments and widespread corruption, different types of road investments yield low or no economic returns.

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