I’m late to Ed Glaeser’s Bloomberg View column on infrastructure spending, but it advances an idea that we often discuss at The Agenda, namely the importance of public sector efficiency:
Infrastructure investment only makes sense when there is a clear problem that needs solving and when benefits exceed costs. U.S. transportation does have problems — traffic delays in airports and on city streets, decaying older structures, excessive dependence on imported oil — but none of these challenges requires the heroics of a 21st century Erie Canal. Instead, they need smart, incremental changes that will demonstrate more wisdom than brute strength.
To that end, Glaeser calls for more user fees, congestion pricing, the decentralization of transportation spending, and, perhaps most interestingly, devoting the Highway Trust Fund to maintenance, leaving state governments to fund new projects themselves. (Here Glaeser is drawing on the excellent work of Matthew Kahn and David Levinson.) It’s a very sensible agenda, and it avoids the twin pitfalls of infrastructure alarmism and misplaced China envy.