The Yangon Circular Railway is the local commuter rail network in Yangon, Myanmar. In this recording, World Bank Country Manager Kanthan Shankar boards the train on a three-hour ride around the city. "You see a panorama of life unfolding before you and you feel a part of the picture," he says, reflecting on the daily lives of the people in Yangon, "There's a huge opportunity for commerce and private sector growth. Yangon and Myanmar is lucky that it has basic infrastructure in place. It's a matter of rehabilitating these and aiming for a smoother ride to pave the way for commerce,"
It should be celebration time for public-private partnerships and other forms of private investment in infrastructure. The pent-up demand for infrastructure in the developing world has never been greater—over double the $900 billion per year being spent now, according to our rough estimates; and governments around the world are falling over themselves to show donors, strategic investors and creditors alike how committed they are to attracting private investment to infrastructure.
Somehow, as we release the 2012 data on private participation in infrastructure (PPI) across the developing world [see: PPI Database], I just can’t get myself to pop the champagne. True, the march into higher levels of investment, uneven as it is, continues. Commitments for PPI totaled $182 billion in 2012 and most developing countries clocked in with at least one private investment. But the total is still less than 20 percent of what the developing world is spending on infrastructure, and less than 10 percent of what is needed to reach growth targets. It is still less than one percent of GDP for developing countries.
If the demand is out there, what are all those investors scared of?
International long-term private finance to developing countries has changed dramatically in the wake of the global financial crisis. Caught in “post-crisis blues”, as my World Bank colleagues Jeff Chelsky, Claire Morel and Mabruk Kabir called it in a recent Economic Premise, some traditional sources of long-term finance are strained, and alternatives have not been able to adequately compensate. Private financing of infrastructure has been particularly hurt.
The results suggest strangely mixed conclusions. In certain ways, poverty trends in Nigeria over the past decade were better than has been widely reported, where a story of increasing poverty has been the consensus. And yet poverty is stubbornly high, disappointingly so given growth rates.
Three facts stand out.
If you saw how poor I was before, you would see that things are getting better.
When I hear stories like that of Jean Bosco Hakizimana, a Burundian farmer whose life was transformed by a cow, I get excited about the change we can all make. Jean Bosco’s income is improving, his kids are eating better, his wife has some nice clothes, and his manioc fields are yielding better harvests — all thanks to the milk and fertilizer from this one cow.
A similar story is playing out in more than 2,600 communities across Burundi, offering new life to a people once decimated by civil war. These community agricultural programs sponsored by the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest, show that development doesn’t have to be that complicated and that collective effort can make all the difference.
In community-driven development (CDD) projects, communities that have been given control over planning decisions and investment resources for development often decide to undertake small-scale infrastructure projects, such as rural roads, small bridges or schools. A project in Benin has demonstrated that schools built by communities can be built faster at lower cost than those built by outside contractors.
An assumption behind CDD is that communities with local knowledge of resources and environment are better positioned to figure out the best way to build their own public infrastructure in their interest. Indeed, there is some evidence that community-built infrastructure can be cheaper when compared to infrastructure built by government or outside contractors (for example, Wong (2012) introduces several cases of “CDD’s cost effectiveness as compared to equivalent works built through other government service delivery mechanisms”).
However, much of the available evidence comes from a comparison between “community-built infrastructure” and “other-entity built similar infrastructure” constructed at a different time. It is difficult to find, or to set up, an experiment where a set of identical infrastructure projects are built by both communities and others at the same time under similar conditions, and in numbers large enough to allow for comparison between outcomes.
In this regard, the recently completed National Community Driven Development Project (“PNDCC” in French) and the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) Education project in Benin present just this type of “natural experiment.”
With investments in infrastructure and efforts to improve the business climate, Algeria is focused on creating the conditions for more robust and inclusive growth.
Ninety years ago, in his A Tract on Monetary Reform Keynes famously wrote “In the long run we are all dead”. That observation recently stirred a lot of debate for all the wrong reasons, after Niall Ferguson obnoxiously claimed that Keynes did not care about the future because he was childless. Whether Keynes cared about the long-term future or not (and whether he had children or not) is completely irrelevant in this context, as many (e.g. Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman) have pointed out.
The actual context in which Keynes wrote this observation was a discussion about the quantity theory of money, which states that doubling the supply of money will only double the prices, but will have no consequences for other parts of the economy. This is the classical dichotomy between real and nominal variables. Keynes argued: “Now in the long run this is probably true”. But “In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.” So, Keynes’ point was obviously not that the future doesn’t matter. His point was that simple theories that might describe long-term relationships are just not good enough to deal with current issues. In the short run, changes in money supply can have all kinds of important consequences beyond the price levels. Economists will have to make their hands dirty and delve into the complicated dynamics of the here and now.