Do We Have Confidence in Economic Institutions?
Trajectories of Infrastructure Financing and Macroeconomic Policies in Practice
Principal Investigator: Dr Elisa Van Waeyenberge
Elisa Van Waeyenberge is Senior Lecturer in Economics at SOAS University of London. She teaches macroeconomic analysis to undergraduate and graduate diploma students as well as research methods to master students. Her research interests include alternative macroeconomic policies in developing countries, the role of International Financial Institutions across policy and scholarly realms, as well as the financing of infrastructure and public service provision.
She has authored a few articles on these topics as well as edited books with colleagues, including The Political Economy of Development: The World Bank, Neoliberalism and Development Research (together with Kate Bayliss and Ben Fine).
Co-Investigators: Dr Kate Bayliss and Dr Benjamin Bowles (SOAS).
Trajectories in Infrastructure Finance (TIF) started in May 2019 and sought to deploy an interdisciplinary approach combining anthropology and political economy to examine newly emerging forms or “instrumentalities” of private finance in the UK. The aim was to examine mutations in particular manifestations of “infrastructure-as-asset”, as tensions in their original (UK) forms had become increasingly apparent, most emblematically with the abandonment of PFI/PF2 for new “ostensibly public” (Langley 2018) infrastructure investments. The research project had a particular interest in understanding the cultures of expertise that prevailed as the infrastructure finance landscape was being redesigned and to examine how these interact with changing norms and practices in (private) infrastructure finance. This raised a host of questions. How do private finance options for infrastructure emerge from within the government apparatus? What analytical and policy paradigms govern these trajectories? What are the rationales for adopting private finance in some areas but not others? What particular theoretical and empirical frames are mobilised in these decision-making processes? What cultures of expertise prevail, to what policy practices do these give rise, and with what roles and outcomes for different stakeholders?
Our team carried out 24 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders from the infrastructure financing world, including investors, government staff, consultants, academics and NGOs. We also attended four large infrastructure events. Our meetings were mostly held under the Chatham House Rule. In addition, we consulted a large swath of policy documents, newspaper articles, industry press, and an infrastructure financing database. Our research activities highlighted that infrastructure policymaking is a contested terrain riddled with tensions and contradictions across the different interests and perspectives of the stakeholders.
Our research demonstrates how, contrary to traditional macro understandings, infrastructure, and the financing thereof, is never politically neutral or simply “technocratic.” Decision-making regarding its policy and practices inevitably will promote some interests over others. Indeed, the financial, economic, political and cultural realities within which infrastructure financing policy takes form, and which are historically evolved and context-specific, have important implications for the way in which infrastructure policymaking proceeds, is delivered and takes effect. Infrastructure policy and practices are not just a matter of how much (infrastructure’s quantitative dimension as an additional source of demand creating employment and output), but also of what (infrastructure’s links to productivity and growth), and, crucially of how (capturing processes of financing and delivering infrastructure).
Infrastructure finance policy then serves as an index for understanding the role of the state, beyond the narrow prism defined by traditional macroeconomic variables. Such an analysis is important for at least two reasons. First, it seeks to frame the study of macroeconomic relations in the context of relevant underpinning financial, economic, political and cultural realities. Second, it allows to identify crucial fault lines in the promotion of particular infrastructure governance mechanisms as their underlying interests are laid bare, with significant distributional consequences. This is crucial both for the UK and beyond, given the large-scale promotion of private finance in infrastructure across the world.
Shapeshifting in UK Infrastructure Finance and the Limits of Regulation
Elisa Van Waeyenberge, Kate Bayliss, Benjamin Bowles | May 12, 2021