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Public infrastructure: definition, classification and measurement issues


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Beginning from the end of the 1980s many studies analysing the relation between infrastructures endowment and economic development have been realised. A general consensus is achieved around the idea that basic infrastructure facilities are important features related to economic performance, although both the magnitude and the causality are debated. A peculiar feature of these studies is that different empirical and theoretical entities are referred to infrastructure. Although the vast body of literature on infrastructures economic impact have been largely reviewed, less attention have been paid to the term infrastructure per se. This article, aiming to provide a helpful instrument to critically interpret the existing literature, zooms in on infrastructure definition and then reviews different categories of infrastructures utilised in literature, namely: personal, institutional, material, immaterial, economic, social, core and not-core, basic and complementary, network, nucleus, and territory infrastructures. The final part deals with problems related to infrastructures measurement describing some financial-based measures and physical-based measures highlighting that both measures - due to economic and strictly computational problems - present pitfalls so that, in turn, both types of measures have critical aspects to be considered when interpreting results concerning infrastructures.
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Public infrastructure: definition, classification and
measurement issues
Gianpiero Torrisi
University of Catania, Faculty of Economics, DEMQ.
Via Mulino a Vento, 10 - 95039 Trecastagni (CT) - ITALY.
Telephone: +390957807229 (home); +393404076433 (mobile);
Public infrastructure: definition, classification and
measurement issues
Beginning from the end of the 1980s many studies analysing the relation between
infrastructures endowment and economic development have been realised. A general
consensus is achieved around the idea that basic infrastructure facilities are important
features related to economic performance, although both magnitude and causality
direction are debated.
A peculiar feature of these studies is that, across them, different empirical and
theoretical entities are referred to infrastructure.
Although the vast body of literature on infrastructures economic impact have been
largely reviewed less attention have been paid to the term infrastructure per se.
This article, aiming to provide a helpful instrument to critically interpret the existing
literature, zooms in on infrastructure definition and then reviews different categories of
infrastructures utilised in literature, namely: personal, institutional, material, immaterial,
economic, social, core and not-core, basic and complementary, network, nucleus, and
territory infrastructures.
The final part deals with problems related to infrastructures measurement describing
some financial-based measures and physical-based measures highlighting that both
measures - due to economic and strictly computational problems - present pitfalls so
that, in turn, both types of measures have critical aspects to be considered when
interpreting results concerning infrastructures.
Keywords: infrastructure; public expenditure.
JEL Classification: H54
Public infrastructure: definition, classification and
measurement issues.
Abstract. - Beginning from the end of the 1980s many studies analysing the relation
between infrastructures endowment and economic development have been realised. A
general consensus is achieved around the idea that basic infrastructure facilities are
important features related to economic performance, although both magnitude and
causality direction are debated.
A peculiar feature of these studies is that, across them, different empirical and
theoretical entities are referred to infrastructure.
Although the vast body of literature on infrastructures economic impact have been
largely reviewed less attention have been paid to the term infrastructure per se.
This article, aiming to provide a helpful instrument to critically interpret the existing
literature, zooms in on infrastructure definition and then reviews different categories of
infrastructures utilised in literature, namely: personal, institutional, material, immaterial,
economic, social, core and not-core, basic and complementary, network, nucleus, and
territory infrastructures.
The final part deals with problems related to infrastructures measurement describing
some financial-based measures and physical-based measures highlighting that both
measures - due to economic and strictly computational problems - present pitfalls so
that, in turn, both types of measures have critical aspects to be considered when
interpreting results concerning infrastructures.
Keywords: infrastructure; public expenditure.
JEL Classification: H54
1 Introduction
Moving essentially from Barro (1988) and Aschauer (1989) many studies analysing the
relationship between infrastructures and the economic development have been realised.
On this field there is a broad spectrum of theoretical viewpoints some of them
diametrically opposed to one another. A general consensus is achieved around the idea
that basic infrastructure facilities are important features related to economic
performance. Apart from this main idea opinions differs greatly: both magnitude and
causality remain subjects of debate.
Indeed, the seminal work of Aschauer (1989) estimated an output elasticity of
core infrastructure of .24 - i.e. a 1% increase in investment in public infrastructure will
result on a 0.24% increase in the output of the private sector - so that, this high elasticity
led the Author to argue that the decline in productivity growth during the 1970’s was
largely due to a decline in public investment in infrastructure.
Nonetheless, as research in the field progressed, disputes over this high impact
of infrastructure arose. Gramlich (1994), for example, pointed out that Aschauer
(1989)’s approach was affected by several problems. In relation to the magnitude of
infrastructure impact he highlighted that generally a positive public capital elasticity
forces the choice between increasing returns of scale and large factors rent, and that
Aschauer (1989)’s work result in “pretty stratospheric estimates of the marginal product
of government capital” (Gramlich, 1994, p. 1186).
Moreover, the statistical causality between infrastructure and productivity itself
is questioned, indeed, in Looney and Frederiksen (1981)’s words, one the research
question is: “is infrastructure the initiating factor in the development process or it is
merely a passive or accommodating factor?”(Looney and Frederiksen, 1981, p.286)
At this regard, Evans and Karras (1994) - in their study regarding seven
OECD countries between 1963 and 1988 - even founding strong correlations between
the two variables, concluded that the direction of causality was the opposite of that
reported by Aschauer (1989), i.e. increased stocks of public capital were the result of
increased productivity and economic growth, not the cause: “there is no evidence that
government capital is highly productive”(Evans and Karras, 1994, p.278). As possible
theoretical justification of this empirical result can be invoked the Zegeye (2000)’s
argument that infrastructure is a normal good, so that wealthy counties will tend to have
more due to their higher level of income.
Many other studies often sustain intermediate thesis distinguishing between
(more or less) productive and unproductive infrastructure and trying to deal with
infrastructure endogeneity problem with appropriate econometric tests.
They could be grouped together into four approach:
i. The production function approach that models the amount of output that can be
produced for each factor of production, given technological constraints. In this
approach public infrastructure enters as a free input furnished by government.
ii. The cost function approach takes into account factor prices such as the price of
labour, machinery, and finance. Public infrastructures are conceived as costs
saving factors.
iii. Growth models belonging to the tradition of endogenous growth and augmented
to consider as growth enhancing factors also public infrastructures.
iv. Data-oriented models analyze relations between several data series including
infrastructures and GDP and do not rely heavily on economic theory.
However, approaching the theme regarding the link between infrastructure and
productivity, especially in empirical terms, two important preliminary questions arise:
what is infrastructure? And how to measure it?
Indeed, in absence of standard definition any comparison between studies is
challenging: referring to “infrastructure” various measures of road, electricity
generating plants, water and sewerage systems etc. have been utilised, often without a
clear statement of the criteria utilised to define what is infrastructure. In addition,
various types of measures (e.g. financial-flow, financial-stock, physical) have been
utilised in literature.
Although many literature reviews concerning studies on infrastructures’ impact
on productivity have been realised – see Infrastructure Canada (2007); Romp and Haan
(2007) - the issue of infrastructure’s definition, classification, and, measurement
received less attention and most often is treated only incidentally.
Bearing these issues in mind, this paper zooms in on infrastructure definition
(section 2), on its classification (section 3), and, on problem related to the measurement
of infrastructure (section 4). Section 5 presents some concluding remarks.
2 What is infrastructure?
There is no standard definition of infrastructure across economic studies. Tinbergen
(1962) introduces the distinction between infrastructure (for example, roads and
education) and superstructure (manufacturing, agricultural and mining activities)
without neither a precise definitions nor any theoretic references of these terms.
The reason for this unsatisfactory situation comes from the need for
simultaneous realization of three analytic objectives: (i) the formulation of a concept for
the term "infrastructure"; (ii) the incorporation of theoretic approaches (for example, the
theory of public goods), and (iii) the description of the reality of infrastructure
According to Buhr (2003) the broadest economic version of the term
"infrastructure" – referring to the works of List (1841) and Malinowski (1944) - dates
back to Jochimsen (1966)’s book on the theory of infrastructure in which the author
aims to present preparatory studies for a modern theory of the development of a market
economy based on the study of infrastructure endowment.
By dividing the relevant time-paths of economic development in (a) quasi-
stagnation, (b) economic dualism, and (c) self-sustained development - where quasi-
stagnation is characterized by a relatively constant level of economic activities, mostly
the subsistence level, due to the absence of any stimuli to change; dualism results in the
disintegrating decomposition of the economy into segments with differently changing
activity levels with respect to sectors, regions and firm sizes due to the linkages of
external effects, institutional rigidities, technological discontinuities and other frictions
of the market economy and self-intensifying growth, is characterised by an increasing
level of economic activities - he denotes “infrastructure” as the important preconditions
of economic development concerning the time-path mentioned above and the
transformation processes leading from one step to another; in this framework
infrastructures are provided by the state or controlled by it.
More deeply, the author defines infrastructure as
the sum of material, institutional and personal facilities and data which are available to
the economic agents and which contribute to realizing the equalization of the
remuneration of comparable inputs in the case of a suitable allocation of resources, that
is complete integration and maximum level of economic activities (Jochimsen, 1966,
Or, in a pragmatic sense, material infrastructure is understood as
"[…] 1. the totality of all earning assets, equipment and circulating capital in an
economy that serve energy provision, transport service and telecommunications; we
must add 2. structures etc. for the conservation of natural resources and transport routes
in the broadest sense and 3. buildings and installations of public administration,
education, research, health care and social welfare" (Jochimsen, 1966, p.103).
However even Jochimsen (1966)’s definition, as noted by Buhr (2003), “has the
disadvantage of not making factor price equalization concrete”(Buhr, 2003, p.1). A
second problematic aspect of this definition is that it “understands material
infrastructure to be an enumeration of essentially public facilities characterized by
specific attributes” (Buhr, 2003, p.1). Indeed, in Buhr (2003) the main stream approach
based on infrastructure attributes is reject as a whole in favour of an approach base on
infrastructure specific functions (see further on this section).
Therefore, in the absence of a standard (precise) definition, various authors
model a variety of different indicators of infrastructure and this fact, in turn, makes
challenging any comparison involving different studies.
In addition, in terms of policy, having no common definition of infrastructure
makes difficult to develop uniform policies in this field (Infrastructure Canada, 2007).
Despite this difficulties related to its exact meaning, in the public discussion, the
term made a successful terminological career, rising to a formula of political
technocracy so that we “have” to confront with it.
Aiming to highlight general features of “goods” from time to time utilised can
be said that the term "infrastructure" - stemming from the usage of military language
(where it refers to permanent military installations such as barracks and airports) - in
economic sense refers to two main criteria: i) infrastructure is a capital good (provided
in large units) in the meaning that it is originated by investment expenditure and is
characterised by long duration, technical indivisibility and a high capital-output ratio; ii)
infrastructure is also a public (sometimes a merit) good, not necessarily in the sense
that it is owned by the public sector, rather in the proper economic sense that it fulfil the
criteria of being not excludable and not rival in consumption for which economic
agents show real (in the case of merit goods) or opportunistic (in the case of public
goods) “wrong” preferences. Sometimes the characteristic of being a public good is
“weakened” so that infrastructure do create external effects but do not achieve the
maximal level of externalities represented by public goods.
As mentioned above, the approach based on technical, economic and
institutional infrastructure features (Youngson, 1967; Biehl, 1986) could be considered
the main stream approach.
Nevertheless, an alternative approach has been developed based on
infrastructures essential functions: the so-called “functional approach”. Here the term
“essential” refers to the fact that infrastructure initiate the changes of economic
The starting point of this last approach is represented by the idea that the
creation of the social product is due to economic agents interacting with each others
and that the contribution of each agent is based on the provision of infrastructures. Put
differently, the peculiar characteristic of the term “infrastructure” should be
individuated both in the activation and in mobilisation of the economic agents’
Therefore, according to this approach, material infrastructure, for example,
has the function of rendering possible the opening and development of the economic
agents’ activities. It puts into action the potentialities of economic units for the benefit
of society (Buhr, 2003, p.13).
Hence, each type of infrastructure can be defined according to its effect. So that,
for example market-oriented material infrastructure could be defined as all capital
goods serving the coordination and interaction of economic units to realise their
economic plans.
Following this alternative approach to the problem of infrastructure definition –
i.e. the functional one – Buhr (2003) defines infrastructure as “the sum of all relevant
economic data such as rules, stocks, and measure with the function of mobilising the
economic potentialities of economic agents” (Buhr, 2003, p.16).
To summarise: this section presented tow different general defition of
infrastructure based respectively on its attribute and on its functions.
Next section will focus on different infrastructure classification introduced in
literature with the purpose to better define the borders of this “elusive” term.
3 Infrastructure classification
Once introduced, in previous section, a general definition of infrastructure, this section
considers the different ways in which infrastructures have been classified by different
authors. In what follow I will briefly describe the criteria used in literature to identify
the categories of personal, institutional, material and immaterial infrastructures;
economic and social infrastructures, as well as core and not-core, basic and
complementary, network, nucleus and territory infrastructures.
As key to an understanding of this classification should be noted that
classifications developed here are potentially overlapping, for instance, roads belong to
material-economic-network infrastructures according to the different point of view of
the analysis (see table 3.2).
Personal, institutional and (im)material infrastructures. To begin with, I will
take into account Jochimsen (1966)’s distinction between material, personal and
institutional infrastructures.
I will describe personal and institutional infrastructure first, in order to develop
more in detail the material one.
Personal infrastructure refers to " … the number and the qualities of people in
the market economy characterized by the division of labour with reference to their
capabilities to contribute to the increase of the level and the degree of integration of
economic activities" (Jochimsen, 1966, p 133).
A general way to refer to personal infrastructure is represented by human capital
defined by OECD as
the knowledge, skills, competencies and attributes embodied in individuals that
facilitate the creation of personal, social and economic well-being” (Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2001, p. 18).
So that the concept of human capital entails
a) the capacity of interpreting flows of sensory data and structured information required
for purposive individual actions and inter-personal transactions among economic
b) the capacity for providing a variety of physical labour service-inputs in ordinary
production processes;
c) the cognitive basis of entrepreneurial market activities;
d) the key resource utilised for managing market and non-market production, as well as
household consumption activities;
e) the creative agency in the generation of new knowledge underlying technological and
organisational innovations.” (David, 2001, p. 19)
As Buhr (2003) pointed out, the role of personal infrastructure for determining
the quality of the economic agents' values (achievement motivation, productive
capacity, value integration) results in three essential approaches: (a) the tasks of
economic agents in the economic process (entrepreneurial guidance, unskilled and
qualified labour, teaching etc.), (b) the importance of personal infrastructure for the
individual (short-term and long-term consumption of education), and (c) the social
relevance of personal infrastructure (integration effect of education).
Institutional infrastructure “comprises the grown and set norms, institutions and
procedures in their reality of constitution, insofar as it refers to the degree of actual
equal treatment of equal economic data, excluding meta-economic influences. It
determines the framework within which economic agents may formulate their own
economic plans and carry them out in co-operation with others" (Jochimsen, 1966, p
In the sense introduced above institutional infrastructure stems from term
"economic constitution" and can be considered the real implementation of the norms in
the "institutional basis" of the market economy ( see Buhr, 2003). Thus institutional
infrastructure, being assigned the function of social integration of values, is the object of
economic and legal policy.
Let turn to the definition of material infrastructure. Given an economic setup
(preferences of the population, the levels of technology, the institutional rules, the level
of development and the geographical particularities of a community) material
infrastructure is essentially characterized by two distinguishing qualities: i) fulfilment of
social needs and (economic necessity of) ii) mass production.
The first attribute refers to the essential needs of human life. Following this
perspective, material infrastructures can be defined as goods and services able to satisfy
those wants of economic agents originating from physical and social requirements of
human beings. For example, the need of drinking water is met by the corresponding
supply of water collected, say, in a reservoir which, as a capital good, is a specific type
of material infrastructure.
The output relative to a material infrastructure results from the interplay of its
corresponding supply and demand depending on physical or social wants.
The supply side depend on production functions, finance situation, and
organizational structures of infrastructure producers such as industrial enterprises and
administrative units. As general rule it can be said that the production functions relate
infrastructure outputs to the factors of production. In other cases -e.g. in the case of
roads- infrastructure outputs are related to the direct utilization of capital stocks over
time as result of preceding production processes.
With respect to the demand side, the different requirements of human life to be
satisfied by material infrastructure could be driven –without any pretension of
completeness - from the first column of table 3.1 taken from Buhr (2003).
Table 3.1: Material infrastructure to satisfy requirements of human life.
Source: Buhr (2003), p.22.
Want infrastructure output
(good or service) material infrastructure
Physical requirements
Water drinking water, water for industrial uses, irrigation
water, water for generating hydro-electric power reservoirs, canals, waterways, pipes,
irrigation facilities
Warmth gas, oil, electricity, coal, nuclear energy drilling platforms, pipelines,
generation plants, coal mines
Light electricity, gas generation plants, drilling plants,
circuits, pipelines
Health medical care, refuse collection, waste water disposal hospitals, dumps, sewerage systems
protection against
nature, shelter accommodation, working places, flood protection houses, buildings, plants, levees
Social requirements
Security legislation (laws), judiciary, stability of the value of
money, protection against crimes, outward defense,
military goods
public buildings, police stations,
military installations
information usage of telephones, mobile phones, radios, television,
Internet, newspapers telecommunication facilities, post
offices, newspaper production works
education child care, lectures, research, lending out books kindergartens, schools, universities,
research institutions, libraries
mobility usage of roads by cars, buses, trucks roads, highways
usage of tracks by trains Tracks, train stations
usage of airports by airplanes airports
usage of ports by ships Ports
protection clean air and water air purification filters, waterworks
From what stated above should be clear that material infrastructure facilities are
usually highly complementary to each other. An example for all is housing in relation
to public utility networks (e.g., water and energy supply equipment).
The second peculiar feature of material infrastructure cited above is the non-
availability of infrastructure goods and services to the individual household or firm for
production and cost reasons, i.e., economic necessities of mass production. The usually
high fixed costs of facilities- generating economies of scale- require the (often joint)
production of large volumes of outputs.
Moreover, since the fixed costs are very different comparing various capital
stocks, material infrastructure provision takes place under the conditions of different
market structures ranging from the prevalent form of (natural) monopoly (e.g.,
electricity supply), to competition (e.g., housing construction).
In conclusion about material infrastructures, they can be defined as
“those immobile, non-circulating capital goods that essentially contribute to the
production of infrastructure goods and services needed to satisfy basic physical and
social requirements of economic agents and unavailable to the individual economic
agents (households, firms etc.) for production and cost reasons so that mass production
is economically cogent”(Buhr, 2008)
In literature it is also frequent the use of immaterial infrastructure (by contrast
to material infrastructure) in order to indicate some kind of infrastructure -primarily
innovation and education infrastructures- linked to the development of the material one
as intended above, for instance, research centres, innovation networks, services to the
enterprises, etc..
Economic and social infrastructures. Hansen (1965) distinguishes the
infrastructures into economic and social according to the fact that they acts on the level
of economic development of a territory in direct or indirect way. The result of this point
of view consists in
the division of local public overhead capital (OC) into two components, “social”
overhead capital (SOC) and “economic” overhead capital (EOC). […] Those items
classified as EOC are primarily oriented toward the support of directly productive
activities or toward the movement of economic goods. SOC items […] may also
increase productivity, the way in which they do so is much less direct than in the case
for EOC items (Hansen (1965)).
Thus, economic infrastructures, directly support productive activities; they are:
roads, highways, airports, naval transport, sewer networks, aqueducts, networks for
water distribution, gas networks, electricity networks, irrigation plant and structures
dedicated to the commodities transfer.
While social infrastructures, are those finalized to increase the social comfort
and to act on the economic productivity; they are: schools, structures for public safety,
council flat (not referable to expenses of economic nature), plant of waste disposal,
hospitals, sport structures, green areas, and so on (Hansen, 1965).
Core and not-core infrastructures. It was said above that Aschauer (1989)
attributed a conclusive role to the public capital for the economic growth of a country,
particularly to the component of the cores infrastructure.
The cores infrastructures include, for the Author, roads and highways, airports,
public transport, electric and gas networks, network for water distribution and sewer
networks. The not-core infrastructures are a residual component (Aschauer (1989)).
The same type of classification is adopted in Mastromarco and Woitek (2004) in
which the public capital is expressly separated into core and not core component, and
where empirically it is underlined the role that every component assumes in determining
the different degree of development in the Italian regions of the Center-north in
comparison to those belonging to the southern part of the country.
Sturm, Jacobs et al. (1995) use also a similar distinction between basic and
complementary infrastructure. Where basic infrastructure refers to main railways, roads,
canals, harbours and docks, the electromagnetic telegraph, drainage, dikes, and land
reclamation as opposed to complementary infrastructure category which includes light
railways, tramways, gas, electricity, water supply, and local telephone networks.
Network, nucleus and territory infrastructures. In Biehl (1991) a distinction
emerges among network infrastructures and nucleus infrastructures. The first ones
referring to roads, railroads, “water's highway”, networks of communication, systems
for energy and water provisioning; while the nucleus infrastructures, referring to
schools, hospitals and museums, are relatively characterized by an elevated degree of
immobility, indivisibility, “not-interchangeability” and multi-purpose features.
This last distinction recalls another aspect typical of the nucleus or punctual
infrastructures, tied up to their ability of attraction. According to this last criterion
network infrastructure are such that the basin of use coincides with the territorial unity
in which the infrastructure is located, or is permissible to hypothesize that its ability of
attraction is next to zero. Thus, it is (rather should be) diffused in capillary way on the
Finally, territory infrastructures include services that, even if object of private
investments and activities, have effects on the territory attractiveness, on its quality of
the life and on the dynamics of development.
Table 1.3.2 aims to summarise the different ideas about infrastructure
classification introduced above updating ISTAT (2006), p.17.
Table 3.2- Infrastructure classification.
(1965) Aschauer
(1989) Sturm, Jacobs et
al. (1995) Di Palma, Mazziotta et al.
(1998) Biehl (1991)
Economic Core Basic (main) Material Network
Roads roads (main) railways transport network roads
highways highways (main) roads water-system railroads
airports airports Canals energy network “water
transport public transport harbours and
docks networks of
networks electricity
networks electromagnetic
telegraph systems for
energy and
aqueducts gas networks drainage
networks for
network for
gas networks sewer networks land reclamation
dedicated to
Social Not-core Complementary Immaterial Nucleus
Schools residual
component light railways structures dedicated to
development, innovation and
structures for
public safety tramways hospitals
council flat gas networks museums
plant of waste
disposal electricity
Hospitals water supply
structures local telephone
green areas
Focusing on the empirical side it is worthwhile noting that all (empirical)
studies regardless of theoretical consideration heavily depends on data availability.
Therefore it is of some interest taking into account how official statistics address
the theme of infrastructure. In what follows – as example - I will zoom in on the Italian
case reporting how infrastructures are recorded both in physical terms and in financial –
i.e. public expenditure – terms.
Regarding the physical side, the scheme that follows illustrates the composition
of the macro-areas divided into areas and sub-areas according to ISTAT’s classification.
Table 3..3 – Infrastructure classification according to macro-area area and sub-area.
Source: ISTAT (2006), p.16
Economic infrastructures
Transport Network road Transport
railway Transport
air Transport
sea Transport
other aspects
Energy Network electricity network
gas Network
other aspects
Social Infrastructures
Health Infrastructures free hospital treatment
health service
social security
Other aspects
Educational Infrastructures nursery
school for pupils aged 11 – 14
secondary school
compulsory education
other aspects
Culture Infrastructures Cultural, artistic
and historic heritage
Theatre, music,
cinema and entertainment
other aspects
Environmental Infrastructures Water purification plant
Waste disposal
Green areas
Other aspects
Territory Infrastructures
Tourist infrastructures Tourist receptiveness
other aspects
Trade Infrastructures Retail trade
Wholesale trade
Other aspects
Monetary intermediation Infrastructures Monetary intermediation
other aspects
As can be seen, the economic infrastructures include areas related to the network
for commodities and people transport those for the energy, water, and gas
The macro-area related to social infrastructures comprises four areas: the
infrastructures of the health, education, culture and of the environment infrastructures.
The last macro-area concerns the territory infrastructures and includes resources
for commerce, tourism and for monetary intermediation.
Turning the attention to the financial side following table 3.4 below shows how
the 30 sectors of public spending contained in the Regional Public Accounts (RPA) system
are join up into macro-sectors.
Table 3.4 - Macro-sectors (4) and RPA sectors (30). Source: Volpe (2007) p.110.
Macro-sectors RPA sectors
Economic infrastructures Roads
Other transport
Waste disposal
Sewers and water treatment
Marine fishing and aquaculture
Industry and artisans
Wholesale and retail distribution
Other public works
Other economic sectors
Human capital Education
Research and development
Pensions and wage supplementation
Social infrastructure Culture and recreational services
Other social affairs (assistance and charity)
Other health and sanitation
Public order
General administration
Unclassified expenditure
Residential building Residential building
A detailed description of each subcategory of table 3.3 and 3.4 goes beyond the
scope of this paper, interested readers are addressed to ISTAT (2006) and to Volpe
(2007) for a methodological guide to RPAs.
However, without going deeply to the question, from tables 3.3 and 3.4 can be
drawn the consideration that the accountability of infrastructures has not an unique
solution, that is why once presented different definition of infrastructure and presented
some classification introduced in literature, next section will focus on the problem of its
4 How to measure infrastructure?
Preliminarily, note that the goal of the measurement of infrastructure is essentially
twofold. First, one could be interested in calculating a measure of infrastructure that
aims to quantify the existing infrastructure in order to insert it into the national
statistical system (see table 3.3 and 3.4 with respect to two sources of the Italian
national statistical system). Second, one could be interested in obtaining a measure of
infrastructure with the purpose to analyse its effects in terms of (competitiveness and)
development of a territory (Brancalente, Di Palma et al 2006).
Certainly each category of infrastructure introduced in section 3 presents
peculiar difficulties related to both purposes. For example, the measurement of
institutional infrastructure goes deeply in the character of civic life - involving political
stability, quality of government, and, social infrastructure - so that its exact
“measurement” is rather ambitious. Another significant example is constituted by
human capital representing a crucial factors in endogenous growth models and widely
used despite difficulties regarding its measurement.
At this regard it is worth noting – just to give the idea - that while Easterly and
Rebelo (1993) included “two school enrolment variables […] as proxies for the initial
level of human capital” (Easterly and Rebelo, 1993, p. 424), Marrocu, Paci et al. (2005),
with the same purpose, use a 1996-2002 average of public spending on various
categories; namely: education, training, research and development, pension and wage
supplementation, and, labour.
In order to generalise across studies and categories of infrastructures could be
said that in literature the problem of infrastructure quantification has received two main
different solutions: the first measuring the level of infrastructure endowment in
monetary terms, the second measuring it in physical terms.
Furthermore, a second sub-distinction inside both methods can be operated.
In monetary terms, infrastructure may be intended as a flow or a stock variable.
In the first case, (government) spending correspond to the provision of public services
that instantaneously affect the production. In the second case, instead, what government
spends “today” is added to the stock of public capital and affects the future production
process (Irmen and Kuehnel, 2008).
Typically, in order to calculate the stock measure of infrastructure from
financial flow, researchers use the perpetual inventory method (PIM) which consists in
adding up past gross investments, adjusted for depreciation. For the rationale for using
gross investments see Alvaro (1999) and for computational details see appendix A.
As noted above, both method have been utilised in literature. For instance,
Barro (1988) productive government expenditure as a flow variable and after this
seminal many studies have done similarly, among others Everaert and Heylen (2004);
Ghali (1998; Everaert and Heylen (2004; Belloc and Vertova (2006); Mittnik and
Neumann (2001); Pereira (2000; Pereira (2001). Infrastructure is instead considered as
stock variable, for example, in Albala-Bertrand, Mamatzakis et al. (2004); Bonaglia, La
Ferrara et al. (2001); Ferrara and Marcellino (2000), and, Kamps (2006).
When infrastructure is considered in physical terms – especially with respect to
material infrastructures - two variations are possible. The physical endowment can be
considered simply in physical terms (e.g. kilometres of roads, electrical generating
capacity, number of hospitals, etc.) or can be measured the physical endowment and
then transformed in monetary terms attributing a price to each category of good, that is
adopting the so-called common inventory method (CIM) .
As Brancalente, Di Palma et al. (2006) noted with respect to the Italian case,
adopting one or the other approach leads to results that can differ greatly. Moreover, the
difference between the two measures increases with the territorial detail of the analysis.
In particular, comparing two studies utilising the physical approach (Di Palma and
Mazziotta, 2002; Istituto Guglielmo Tagliacarne, 1998) and other two studies adopting
the PIM (Montanaro, 2003; Picci, 1995) the Authors find that the strong regional north-
south disparities reported in both works regarding the physical approaches disappear in
the works using the PIM.
From the prospective of the analysis which aims to study the infrastructure’s
impact on productivity this variety of methodologies – potentially leading to
significantly different results one from the other- raises the opportunity to consider
critically each method in order to assess its advantages and disadvantages that should
considered when interpreting the results of the analysis as a whole.
First, as Romp and Haan (2007) noted, with regard to the financial side one
should be aware that in “applying the […] perpetual inventory method, the researcher
has to make certain assumption about the assets’ lifespan and depreciation.
Furthermore, one needs an initial level of the capital stock. Especially with
infrastructure these assumption are far from trivial”(Romp and Haan, 2007, p.13).
Furthermore, Brancalente, Di Palma et al. (2006) argue that the same concept
of withdrawing is debatable when applied to (public) infrastructure. Indeed, the
Authors argue that, while it is reasonable to think about withdraw concerning industrial
machine and various equipment owned by private sector especially for those subject to
rapid technical obsolescence, it is not the same in the public infrastructure case: roads,
bridges, ports.
Second, Pritchett (1996) argued that due to (in)efficiency or structural reasons
public stock based on investment series will tend to be overevaluated.
While Montanaro (2003) focusing on the Italian case attributes the difference
between the financial and the physical side to morphology, population density and
inefficiency, Golden and Picci (2005), once tested the statistic (in)significance of the
first two factors, attribute the difference to corruption since, they argue, corruption and
inefficiency are strictly (rather perfectly, as implicitly assumed in their paper)
Moreover, public investment series itself depend heavily on the definition of
public sector adopted by the national account system. It is worthwhile referring once
more to Romp and Haan (2007) citing the piece in which they noted that thinking about
[m]ost people probably think about roads and other infrastructure – such as electricity
generating plants and water and sewage systems – when they refer to the public capital
stock. However, it is important to point out here that this does not fully correspond to
the concept of public sector Investment expenditure as defined in national accounts
statistics, which are typically used to construct data on public capital stock. [Because]
only spending by various government sectors is included. That implies that spending by
the private sector (including public utility firms concerned with electricity generation,
gas distribution, and water supply) is excluded.”(Romp an Haan, 2007, p 13).
Third, simply adding up past investment do not take into account that the effects
of public investment might depend on the level of corresponding capital stock (Kamps
Fourth, from a network perspective PIM values have certain pitfalls: the internal
composition of the stock matters, since the marginal productivity of one link depend on
the capacity and configuration of all links in the network. Using measures of total stock
may thus allow one to estimate the average marginal product of road, say, in the past,
but these estimates may not be appropriate for considering the marginal product of
additional roads today (Fernald (1999)).
Finally, on the strict computational side, PIM requires long-term time series on
public investment and this type of data are not always available for all country and for
all level of government. It does exists data for most OECD countries, but for many
developing countries public stock infrastructure cannot be constructed.
Let now switch the attention to the physical side. In general terms can be said
that this kind of measure have been employed in order to deal with the most part of
problems arising from PIM, see Canning and Pedroni (1999); Sanchez-Robles (1998),
and, Esfahani and Ramìres (2003).
In fact, the measures utilised – such as number of kilometres of paved roads,
kilowatts of electricity generating capacity, number of telephones line and so on- have
the advantage that they do not rely on the concept of public investment as employed in
the national accounts and, in addition, some of the measures do not necessarily refer to
(the results of) government spending.
However, we still need a measure strictly related to some instrument in terms of
policy (first of all public spending) and, perhaps more important, simple physical
measures do not correct for quality which is a crucial point in infrastructure
For instance, in ISTAT (2006) the indicators, let say in the area of the sanitary
infrastructure, report the availability of hospitals and beds for each of the various
specializations or, in the area of the educational infrastructures, the availability of
scholastic buildings and classrooms without any information about the quality of such
Coming back to the main distinction between monetary and physical
measurement treated in this section should be noted that although the financial and the
physical approach potentially produce completely different measures, the two
approaches could be combined in view to draw important conclusions, for example,
about the return rate of public expenditure, in different areas of the Country.
5 Concluding Remark
Many studies utilise the term “infrastructure” with particular respect to its economic
Nonetheless, it does not exist a standard definition of the term, so that from time
to time many goods have been labelled as infrastructure according to various
classification and with different techniques of measurement making challenging any
comparison between them.
This paper aimed to provide a general framework of analysis regarding
infrastructure’s definition and related issues of its classification and measurement.
In so doing, this paper makes an original contribution to already existent
literature reviews on infrastructure to the extent that it represents an attempt to critically
illustrating difficulties arising in answering to the question “what is infrastructure?”
according to the massive literature on infrastructures.
Therefore, this work started posing the main question of infrastructure definition
concluding that a precise definition is difficult to achieve because of difficulties in
simultaneously achieving three main objectives. Namely, formulating a “concept” for
the term infrastructure, incorporation of theoretic approaches, and, the description of
empirical evidence of infrastructure provision.
Despite these difficulties general attributes and functions of infrastructures –
essentially being a capital public good with the function of rendering possible the
opening and development of the economic agents’ activities - are illustrated in section
Once introduced the issue of infrastructure definition a review of different
infrastructure classification is presented, showing that, generally, various category of
infrastructures are overlapping. This fact could be read as an additional source of
ambiguity, given that referring to the same good, scholars could refer their analysis to
different infrastructures categories.
Translated in terms of policy this evidence is not irrelevant. Indeed, since often
measures instead of being good-based are sector-based attributing result to one or the
other category could result in a different policy measure.
The problem of infrastructure measurement, considered in the final part of this
article, is often an underlying issue of studies developed in this field.
However, each of the four different approaches to infrastructure measurement
(financial-flow, financial-stock, physical, and common inventory method) is potentially
leading to different values, and in turn, to different results.
While both the problem of infrastructure definition and classification could not
have a unique solution given that the “best” solution depends on authors’ preference
and purposes, regarding the problem of measurement Brancalente, Di Palma et al.
(2006) argued that for (national) accountability purposes the preferable approach is the
monetary one, given that the whole framework is characterised by monetary values. By
contrast, aiming to study the impact of infrastructure – by means of one of the
approaches mentioned in section 1 – a physical-based measure should rend one more
confident about results achieved to the extent that such a measure is able to better
represent the real infrastructure endowment of the economic system from time to time
considered, regardless of corruption-efficiency considerations.
Nevertheless, concluding on this argument, should be noted that even if the two
main approaches – monetary and physical – are, in general, “neither convergent nor
compatible” (Brancalente, Di Palma et al., 2006, p.265), the possibility to use them in a
complementary way, as in Montanaro (2003) and Golden and Picci (2005) with respect
to the Italian case, is not precluded.
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The Permanent Inventory Method: theoretical and methodological aspects
The Permanent Inventory Method (PIM) is the technique used in order to
achieve a stock measure of infrastructure installed starting from the flow of financial
investment. This is the most common way that statistical agencies measure public
capital stock. Essentially, it involves adding up past capital formation in constant prices
while deducting the value of assets as they reach the end of their service life.
The idea underlying PIM is that the consistence of capital stock for the good at a
given year ( t
K) depends on what was spent during the previous L years with a
cumulative process in which the expenditure of each year is added to the previous one.
Where L is the g good’s average live. A complete review on this method is available on
Goldsmith (1953).
PIM requires an evaluation of the consistence of the stock in one basic year, that
can be achieved cumulating the series of the fixed gross investments along the period
corresponding to the good’s average life.
If we hypothesize a simultaneous exit (i.e. a capital created in a certain year is
withdrawn in bulk at the end of its economic life), then the gross capital stock at a given
year (t) can be expressed according to the following equation
iitt IK
where It is the fixed gross investment in the t year. An alternative method is represented
by a gradual exit in which capital created in a certain year is withdrawn gradually
during the time of its economic life.
Once obtained the benchmark for a certain year, the stock during the following years is
simply given by the equation
Ltttt IIKK
Thus, in words, first I find the consistence to the beginning of the period using the
equation (1), subsequently using the equation (2) I add the new investments and I
subtract the value of the good(s) that have exhausted to the time t their life of L years
(that is why it is used the sub-index t - (L-1)). For a more elaborate formulation see
OECD (1993).
A graphic representation may be useful to explain the mechanism.
Figure A.1 – Permanent Inventory Method
Obviously this is a gross measure based on the idea that each good maintain its
value substantially unaltered during its economic life. A “sophisticated” measure of net
stock, n
K- i.e. a measure that take into account the deterioration and the obsolescence
of each good- needs some hypothesis regarding the depreciation function. Such a
measure might be obtained considering that each good gradually lose its value during
its economic life.
At this regard the National Accounting System adopts a constant depreciation
function that means that a constant fraction of the instrumental good is consumed
during every year of its economic life (i.e. the depreciation rate is L
). In formula
this idea can be expressed as follows
nn DIKK tt
Where Dt represents the depreciation in the t year. Moreover, if we hypothesize,
as the National account do, a linear depreciation function we can express Dt as follows
iitt I
Hence, we can write the (3) in the following form
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... However, there is no standard definition of infrastructure (Torrisi, 2009), but varying perspectives across disciplines. Malaveev and Baskakova (2015) agree that the concept has no universal definition and outline the stages of infrastructure which span from the economic perspective to technology. ...
... is the fixed capital of territories, including infrastructural assets, railways, pipelines, communications towers and lines, dams and plants [18,48] as resources that guarantee local connections and significant interactions with nonlocal actors [24], attract people and investments and promote local economic growth and the competitiveness of the territory [49,50]. Thus, the IC is a public good «characterized by long duration, technical indivisibility and a high capital-output ratio» [51], complementary to the productive capital [52]. Proposed indicators are "Suburban Public Transport", "Postal Offices", "Police Stations" and "Health services". ...
We present a framework for the evaluation of “territorial capital”, specifically devised as support for policy design on fragile territories, the so called “inner areas”. The evaluation procedure leverages open data sources in a multi-criteria spatial evaluation procedure, yielding a dashboard with geographical distribution of indicators of territorial capital, subdivided into its eight constituent dimensions (human, social, cognitive, infrastructural, productive, relational, environmental, and settlement capital). To showcase the working, outputs, and possible uses of the evaluation framework for territorial analysis and policy design, we present the results of a case study application on the Island of Sardinia. The interest and novelty of this research is possibly threefold: the conceptualisation of the notion of “territorial capital” in terms of capabilities for development; its operationalisation in a spatial evaluation model which accounts also for potential spatial interactions; and finally, the application in the case study, illustrating possible employment and usefulness of such results for territorial analysis and policy design.KeywordsTerritorial capitalMulti-criteria spatial evaluationFragile territoriesInternal areasSardinia
Infrastructure development is the top priority of the Indonesian government. The development of transportation network infrastructure is expected to support the growth of national and international economies by connecting regions and opening public and commodity access. The new integrated growth cities were developed to reduce the burden of Jakarta as the central government and economic national centre. Legal aspects become one of the main issues in realising government politics in developing infrastructure. The national strategic project approach became a mechanism to connect a new development centre, such as the Metropolitan Bandung Area, through infrastructure development. However, its implementation requires a legal and regulatory basis with various technical, social, and economic considerations, including anticipating its environmental impact. This research paper aims to give an academic review of the problem of infrastructure development in Indonesia. The normative legal approach is based on the law's theory, concepts, and principles by considering the technical aspects to develop alternative solutions to provide legal certainty in developing infrastructure in Indonesia. The rules for spatial planning are a key issue in developing infrastructure related to random locations and land acquisition. This conflict becomes a major obstacle in developing new primate cities in Indonesia.
The purpose of the study is to consider the needs for transport services from the branches of the regional economic complex of the Republic of Buryatia, the Trans-Baikal Territory, the Amur Region and the Jewish Autonomous Region. From the point of view of functions in the transport complex in the south of the Russian Far East, a transit zone is singled out that serves export-import and transit flows with the countries of North-East Asia. At the same time, the transport infrastructure performs work to serve the regional economy and the movement of transit (relative to the territory of the macroregion) cargo flows. Since these two components compete, it is important to accurately assess the transport needs of the regional economy. The subject of the study is the process of formation of needs for transport services of the economic turnover of the Far Eastern subjects of the Russian Federation in the conditionally allocated southwestern transit zone. The allocation of the southwestern transit zone of the Far Eastern Federal District based on the role of transport of certain subjects of the Russian Federation in the transport complex of the macroregion, based on the calculation of the localization coefficient, has been substantiated. The structure of the economy of the Far Eastern subjects of the Russian Federation of the allocated zone is considered. The leading role of the extraction of natural resources (extractive industry) in the structure of output with a general low scale of economic activity in the subjects under consideration is shown. Based on the correlation coefficients, the general relationships between the indicators of development of key sectors of the economy of the subjects of the Russian Federation of the southwestern transit zone of the Far Eastern Federal District and modes of transport are estimated
Transport infrastructures offer a fundamental contribution to the economic and social development of a country. These, branching out over the territory, allow the movement and transport of people and goods with a potentially significant reduction in mobility time. Saving time has a positive impact on productivity, on the labour market and on the quality of life of citizens. The objective of this paper is to highlight the importance of the economic impacts generated by transportation infrastructures, particularly in the urban real estate market. Among the benefits induced by investments in transport infrastructures, the increase in territorial accessibility is certainly significant: increasing the attractiveness of properties in relation to their location, improved accessibility also leads to an increase in the relative real estate values. Hedonic pricing method has long been the most widely used reference for studying and quantifying these increases in value. The study also reports on this, along with research perspectives that must concern: the selection of useful variables to express the levels of urban accessibility; the characterization of a regression function for the quantitative estimation of the effects that accessibility determines on the formation of real estate prices.KeywordsTransport infrastructuresReal estate marketTerritorial economy
Standard one-sector growth models often have the counterfactual implication that economies with access to similar technologies will converge to a common balanced growth path. We propose an elaboration of the Diamond model that permits multiple, locally stable stationary states. This multiplicity is due to increasing social returns to scale in the accumulation of human capital. -Authors
Abstract This paper surveys ,the recent academic ,empirical economic ,literature on the ,main ,current infrastructure policy issues in developing and transition economies--infrastructure is defined here as all the facilities used to deliver energy, water and sanitation, telecommunication and transport services. The survey tries to provide an unbiased coverage of the discussions on the linkages between infrastructure and, respectively, institutions, growth, equity, finance and corruption. The bulk of the analytical evidence draws onquantitative analytical assessments of the key lessons on these,interactions from the 1990s and of the early part of the 2000s. In the process, the paper provides a rough blue print for a research agenda on infrastructure since one of the mainoverarching,lessons is that the knowledge,gap is not a small one. The main policy conclusions of the paper can be summarized as follows. First, the data gaps are so
This article provides an empirical investigation of the effects of public investment on the evolution of private investment in the United States. It is based on the impulse response analysis associated with vector auto-regressive (VAR) estimates. The empirical results suggest that at the aggregate level, public investment crowds in private investment. Disaggregating private investment shows that the crowding-in effect of public investment is strong for equipment and only marginal for structures. This crowding-in effect on private equipment is particularly strong in the cases of industrial equipment and transportation equipment. In fact, public investment marginally crowds out private investment in information equipment. A final look at the effects of different types of public investment on the different types of private investment suggests that in about one third of the cases, public investment variables crowd out private sector variables. More important, the aggregate results often hide a wide diversity of effects.