Infrastructure: It ain't sexy, but back to FDR and before, it's been the first trick leaders reach for when they need to create jobs and build capital. However, the global downturn of the last few years has seriously hampered national infrastructure projects. The initial stimulus packages passed by the United States and European countries have been followed by years of austerity measures; fear of increasing debt burdens has made legislatures from D.C. to London and beyond shy of taking on new projects. And yet, as Justin Yifu Lin argues in a new piece for Foreign Policy, infrastructure is exactly what the world needs most right now, most of all in the developing world, where 1.4 billion people have no access to electricity and 2.6 billion live without basic sanitation. Investments in developing world infrastructure are not charity, Lin points out: "It will also create jobs and generate growth in advanced economies. Most of the capital goods required to build electricity, sewage plants, and roads are produced in the United States and Europe."
For now, the only country taking infrastructure seriously, both at home and overseas, may be China, with its railroads across Africa; a state-of-the-art sports center in Tanzania; or the Hainan power grid, which will link the island of Hainan to mainland China. The World Bank has estimated that Chinese income is now 6 percent higher than it would have been without the construction of a huge-scale national highway system. It's another reminder that infrastructure works, whether you build bridges in your backyard or halfway across the world.
Above, workers at a construction site in Shanghai on Nov. 21, 2008.