Financing America’s Infrastructure

Source: Douglas Rediker, Heidi Crebo-Rediker, New America Foundation
June 9, 2008

From the summary:
America’s basic infrastructure is outdated, worn, and in some cases, failing. Most experts agree that it is inadequate for meeting the demands of the 21st-century global economy. If we are to remain competitive, we must invest in capital assets like roads, ports, bridges, mass transit, water systems, and broadband infrastructure. Many other countries — both rich and poor — see investing in infrastructure as imperative for economic survival and success in an increasingly competitive economic environment. But the United States has lagged in infrastructure investment, in both relative and absolute terms. We are spending less than 2 percent of GDP on infrastructure, while China and India are spending 9 percent and 5 percent of GDP, respectively.

If the nation’s infrastructure needs are apparent, so too are the limits on available funds in federal, state, and local government coffers. In this presidential election year, we can see these limits clearly, as the nation’s spending priorities are magnified by electoral politics. Although significant government funding will likely continue to play a key role in the development of public infrastructure, the scale of our funding needs increasingly compels us to look beyond government to close the financing gap. It is for this reason that public support for private sector infrastructure investment is essential.

The good news is that while the federal government struggles to find funds to address its spending needs there is abundant private capital for infrastructure investment. An estimated $400 billion in global funds are available for equity investment in infrastructure, and the funds available to support the debt component amount to several trillion dollars if we include global central bank reserves, global pension funds, and sovereign wealth funds. Rather than focus on these large pools of global capital as a threat, we should view them as an opportunity. So, while we have enormous infrastructure financing needs, there are also enormous pools of capital available for investment. The trick is to bring the two together in a commercial, sustainable, and politically acceptable way.

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