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Public infrastructure does not have to earn commercial returns

The Australian government released the business plan for NBN Co today which outlines the “cost-benefit” case for creating a monopoly wholesaler of fibre-based broadband services in Australia and investing some $A27 billion in public funds to create the network. The business case has been the focus of much political debate over the last year or so and as usual most of the debate has been conducted on a spurious basis – that is, the assumption is that the budget outlays proposed represent a “cost” to government and that by committing funds to this project the government is less able to “afford” other projects – presumably because there is some “budget balance outcome” that it cannot deviate from. Neither proposition is valid. While this blog has an Australian flavour the general economic principles apply to all national governments contemplating large-scale public infrastructure developments. The general point is that the provision of public infrastructure does not have to earn commercial returns.

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Robin Hood was a thief not a saviour

I quite liked Robin Hood on TV when I was young. After each episode, there were famous sword duals in backyards, with usually some oppressive older brother playing the role of the sheriff and the youngest least defenceless kids were “his men”. The rest of us were the outlaws and we hid in bushes and sharpened dangerous bits of wood and fired them from powerful home made bows at the oppressors. Mothers had first-aid kits constantly in use. Neighbourhood girls were usually attracted to the outlaws which was always a useful by-product that the sheriff and his “men” seemed to overlook, although most of the “men” were too young to gauge the significance of this. Yes, 1960s suburban Australia. Anyway, Robin is back in town but this time some do-gooders are invoking his name to solve the problems of the world. However, none of their “solutions” are viable and are based on faulty understandings of the way monetary systems operate.

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