For those who insist that the solution is infrastructure spending

Yep, OK, we can buy into the idea that building things employs people. But building what and where?

Spain is to partially close 30 of the nation\’s 47 state-run airports in an attempt to reduce the costs of its \”white elephants\” built throughout the nation during the boom years.


Some of the airports have no scheduled flights yet are fully staffed and operational in what has come to symbolise the reckless public spending projects that have left Spain crippled with debt.

Now the ministry of industry and AENA, the state-run company that controls the nation\’s airports, are considering plans to reduce operating hours at three quarters of the airports to include only those when flights are due or with a skeleton staff to operate in an emergency.

Among the worst performers are Badajoz airport, near the Portuguese border in western Spain, which saw its last commercial flight take-off in January.

In Huesca, a town in northern Spain billed as the \”gateway to the Pyrenees\”, local authorities have subsidised the rare passengers flying in, just 2,781 of them in the whole of 2011, spending an estimated €1,600 on each traveller through its terminal last year. The fully staffed terminal in Huesca, including numerous restaurants, are open year-round even though the commercial flights bringing skiers to the region only operate during the winter months.

In all, there are 20 airports that handle fewer than 100,000 passengers a year, well below the estimated half a million they need to be profitable.

And if anyone thinks that planes are different from trains or art galleries or roads or bridges then I\’m afraid that you\’ve just not been paying attention to the way that politics assigns capital to such projects. Nor is it just in Spain of course.

Edinburgh\’s trams, there are any number of now shuttered lottery funded boondoggles, California is trying to build high speed rail between two Podunk villages, even when complete between LA and SF it will take longer and be more expensive than flying and, amazingly, would need more than the entire travel on the route to even break even. Then there\’s the light rail project in Scottsdale AZ (hmm, mebbe Tucson,): it would actually have been cheaper to give a free Prius to each and every one of the daily ridership.

Yes, building infrastructure creates jobs right now, yes, we do actually need some infrastructure too. But that just ain\’t a justification for building anything everywhere….

4 thoughts on “For those who insist that the solution is infrastructure spending”

  1. Edinburgh’s trams are not an infrastructure project. Their purpose is to provide the city’s taxi drivers with a topic for endless conversation. As such, the project is a spectacular success…

  2. But Tim, deci,ding where and when an infrastructure project was a good idea would be grown up politics, and we can’t allow that. Slogans and name calling are more fun.

  3. Don’t just run them at a very low level. Close a few and sell them. The land can be used for other things: racing circuits, business estates and factories, as a sound stage for film and telescreen production.

    Time Magazine has an article and photo gallery of some more varied white elephants in spain.

  4. Bah! Humbug! etc
    Infrastructure is just an example, and the easiest one.
    When you have a lot of unemployed people it makes sense to use them to do something useful, which can mean building a bridge across the Thames or the Severn but NOT the “Bridge to Nowhere”. Cleaning up the parks, teaching kids to cycle, renovating dilapidated houses and insulating lofts, building new houses in areas of housing shortage, transporting planning officers in the south-east onto a Vogon starship, whatever.
    The brain-dead equate “useful” to “infrastructure”

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