Is There a Shortfall in Public Capital Investment? An Overview

by Alicia H. Munnell
May/June 1991

This article summarizes the Bank’s economic conference held in June 1990. The conference aimed to determine the extent to which the United States may be underinvesting in public infrastructure, explain the potential economic consequences, and suggest mechanisms to help alleviate any adverse trends. It focused on public investment in physical capital only to make the topic manageable, and should not be interpreted to mean that investment in human capital is in any way less important.

Two quite different perspectives on the need for more infrastructure investment emerge from the discussion. On one side are those who see a strong link between public capital investment and economic and social well-being; they view the current stock of public capital as inadequate and believe that additional investment is required. On the other side are those who are primarily concerned with the efficient use of existing infrastructure; they basically oppose increasing investment until the engineering, pricing, and financing of infrastructure are closer to the optimum.

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