Finding Out the Truth about Infrastructure Projects

Along with Noah Smith, I write in favor of infrastructure investment in “One of the Biggest Threats to America’s Future Has the Easiest Fix” and followed that up with “Capital Budgeting: The Powerpoint File.” But I am frustrated by my inability to tell from the news how which particular infrastructure investments are a good deal from the standpoint of solid cost-benefit analysis, and which are just meant to be salient shiny baubles for voters–or perhaps worse, meant to be ways to get money into the pockets of campaign contributors or into the pockets of workers being paid more than a free-market wage. It is very, very easy for the government to pay more than it should for an infrastructure project, given that every dollar it spends is someone’s income. And it is very easy to be drawn to a shiny new light rail system, for example, when a better bus system would be a much more cost-effective solution–or to be drawn to building a new road, when fixing the potholes on existing roads is a better investment. 

I was reminded of this frustration by reading Holman Jenkin’s Wall Street Journal op-ed “The Infrastructure Medicine Show and tweeted the following, which is the question I want answered:

Is there any way to establish an independent think tank to make trustworthy analyses of infrastructure projects?

— Miles Kimball (@mileskimball) February 4, 2015