Every country wants to build more bridges, roads and renewable-power grids. It won’t be easy
每个国家都想修建更多的桥梁、道路和可再生能源电网。但这并不容易

基建不易建 Infrastruggles-书迷号 shumihao.com

IN 1916 CINCINNATI decided to construct a magnificent new subway system. After decades of cock-ups it was abandoned in 1948, and today there are two miles of tunnels beneath the city that have never been used. That cautionary tale is still relevant. Politicians everywhere are calling for more infrastructure spending. Yet few industries have a worse record of coming through on time and on budget. If the incipient boom is to produce better results, governments and firms must learn to adopt best practice from around the world.
一九一六年,辛辛那提决定建造一个宏伟的新地铁系统。接下来的二三十年里这个项目的进展一团糟,最终于1948年放弃。今天这座城市的地下还有两英里长的从未使用过的隧道。这在今天依然应引以为戒。世界各地的政客都在呼吁增加基础设施支出,然而在按时、按预算完工这方面,很少有行业比基建部门的记录更糟糕的了。眼下刚刚露头的热潮若要产生更好的结果,政府和企业就必须学会采纳世界各地的最佳实践。

Most countries have enacted short-term stimulus plans to deal with the pandemic. Former President Donald Trump signed on December 27th a $900bn spending bill. But there is also appetite to binge on infrastructure. President Joe Biden wants to spend $2trn on roads, power grids and railways, and hopes to win bipartisan support for his plans. The European Union has just approved a €1.8trn ($2.2trn) budget, a slug of which is for digital and energy investments.
大多数国家都已经制定了短期的刺激计划来应对疫情。美国前总统特朗普在12月27日签署了一项9000亿美元的支出法案。但大笔投资基础设施的欲望也已被点燃。总统拜登想在道路、电网和铁路上投入两万亿美元,希望自己的计划能赢得两党的支持。欧盟刚刚批准了1.8万亿欧元(2.2万亿美元)的预算,其中一部分会用于数字和能源投资。

The new infrastructure infatuation is understandable. Public and private investment has stagnated at 3-4% of GDP worldwide. That is too little to maintain ageing assets in developed countries—a third of American bridges are creaky—or to provide enough clean water and electricity in the emerging world. Low interest rates mean financing is cheap, and many economists think that the payback from infrastructure is attractive. Meanwhile, climate change and the digitisation of the economy are creating vast demand for renewable-energy systems and connectivity, including 5G networks.
对基础设施再度倾心是可以理解的。这部分公共和私人投资占全球GDP的比例常年在3%到4%之间徘徊。这个数字对于维护发达国家日益老化的资产来说太少了——美国三分之一的桥梁都年久失修,而对于在新兴世界提供足够的清洁水和电力而言同样严重不足。利率低使得融资成本很低,而且许多经济学家都认为基础设施的回报很有吸引力。与此同时,气候变化和经济数字化正在创造对可再生能源系统和包括5G在内的网络连接的巨大需求。

In practice, however, infrastructure’s record is as potholed as a Mumbai motorway. Cost-overruns often exceed 25%. Two-thirds of foreign bribery cases involve infrastructure deals. China spends more than anyone else, but perhaps half of its investments have destroyed economic value. India had a boom in the 2000s which ended in a mire of debt. Even Germany struggles to get it right. All this reflects some deep underlying problems. Most projects have a time horizon beyond that of politicians and voters. Often they are one of a kind: China has just Three Gorges to dam, not six. And the full economic benefits created by a road, say, are not captured by the organisation paying for it.
然而在实践中,基建过往的业绩就如同孟买的高速公路那般坑洼遍布。成本超支经常超过25%。三分之二的跨国行贿案件涉及基建协议。中国的基建投入比其他任何国家都多,但可能其中一半的投资破坏了经济价值。印度在本世纪头十年兴起了基建热潮,最终却陷入债务泥潭。就连德国也做不好这件事。所有这些都反映出一些深层次问题。大多数项目的时间跨度都比政客的任期和选民的展望要长。它们常常是独一无二的:中国修的是“三”峡大坝而不是“六”峡。另外,一项基础设施(例如一条公路)创造的全部经济效益并不由为它买单的组织获得。

Yet bitter experience does at least suggest two universal lessons. First, governments should select projects systematically by creating a single list and picking those with the highest payback. This assessment should factor in externalities, including the impact on carbon emissions, and delays, which are a big source of cost overruns. And it should be carried out by bodies that are independent from those that build and run assets. Often the projects selected will not be the glittering new temples that politicians like their names on, but humble repairs and maintenance.
不过,苦涩的经历确实给出了至少两条普遍适用的经验。首先,政府应该系统性地甄选项目,方法是创建一个单一的清单,从中选择回报最高的项目。这个评估过程应将碳排放影响等外部性以及工程延误考虑在内,后者是成本超支的一大根源。此外,评估的执行机构应该独立于资产的建设和运营方。被选中的项目通常不会是熠熠生辉的崭新神殿——让政客们愿意用来给自己贴金的那种,而是不起眼的维修和保养工作。

The second lesson is to harness the private sector. Not only is it a source of capital—global infrastructure funds have over $200bn waiting to be deployed—but projects with private investors also tend to be managed better. That means developing standardised contracts and independent regulators that protect taxpayers but also give investors reasonable certainty of an adequate return.
第二条经验是利用私营部门。它不仅是一个资本来源——全球基建基金有超过2000亿美元等待部署——而且有私人投资者参与的项目往往也管理得更好。这就需要开发标准化的合同并引入独立的监管机构,从而既保护纳税人,又让投资者有一定的把握获得足够的回报。

Both lessons might seem obvious. A few places, such as Chile and Norway, get infrastructure right. But over half of the countries surveyed by the IMF do not maintain a national pipeline of projects. And in most the record is staggeringly erratic. America is splurging on 5G but has squalid airports and too little renewable energy. Europe has shiny airports and wind farms but is in the stone age on 5G. Infrastructure is one of the last local industries left where easy gains are still to be had by copying others around the world. If you benchmark public investment in over 100 countries, adopting best practice could make spending 33% more efficient. The prize is huge. Just don’t expect a subway in Cincinnati.■
这两条经验似乎都是明摆着的。在少数地方,如智利和挪威,基建做得不错。但在国际货币基金组织调查的国家中,超过一半都没有国家级的项目储备,而且大多数国家的基建发展都极不平衡。美国在5G上大把撒钱,机场却破破烂烂,可再生能源也少之又少。欧洲有锃光瓦亮的机场和风力发电场,但在5G上却还处于石器时代。现在已经没有几个地方产业还可以通过照抄世界其他地方的做法来轻松获益了,基建是一个。如果以100多个国家的公共投资为基准,采用最佳实践有可能使开支的效率提高33%。回报是巨大的。只是别指望辛辛那提的地铁会修成了。