Earlier this week, global leaders at the G7 summit signed a “green belt and road initiative,” which offers funds to low income countries for sustainable investment. The agreement comes in the face of a $15 trillion global infrastructure investment gap, which threatens to compound resource and climate-based inequalities.

In a 2018 introductory article, GAVIN BRIDGE, BEGUM ÖZKAYNAK, and ETHEMCAN TURHAN consider the global politics of green investment.

From the piece:

“Energy infrastructures draw together and advance the material interests of specific actors and groups across multiple scales. It is in this multi-actor and multi-scalar context, then, that a resurrection of debates on energy has to be understood: in some contexts energy policy reflects the reassertion of the national state as an economic actor (i.e. resource nationalism in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador). In others, it signals the rise of a populist and authoritarian form of economic nationalism (i.e. Turkey, Poland, India), where energy projects are harnessed to claims for national security in ways that occlude the particular interests of private capital and suppress dissent. In countries that embraced economic liberalization in the energy sector (such as the UK), claims for the national importance of new energy infrastructure reflect concerns about growing import dependency and the way energy systems are no longer ‘nationally’ contained. Elsewhere, it is an artefact of international agreements signed and ratified by nation-states.

It is important that social science research on energy better understand these complex intersections between energy infrastructure and the political economies of national development. Claims about the national significance of infrastructure ‘do political work’ by, for example, licensing state intervention in energy systems, establishing political authority, and marginalizing criticism. In many countries, energy policy-making remains centralized and divorced from public participation. Questions about who bears the costs of power stations, pipelines and other energy infrastructures deemed ‘critical’ to national security or development now animate calls for more inclusive and sustainable energy systems. Energy infrastructure also enables and sustains particular forms of political economy. This includes, for example, the importance of electricity transmission systems, gas pipelines and storage facilities to constituting wholesale energy markets and enabling the adoption of economic liberalization policies in national energy sectors. Chile’s introduction of wholesale markets for electricity in 1978, and comprehensive electricity and gas sector privatization in the UK beginning in the 1980s illustrate how infrastructures for circulating gas and electricity have been a key experimental site for economic deregulation and the introduction of market principles, commercial logics and private capital into national economies. Infrastructures for energy have been a key frontier in the evolution of economic organizational forms—around markets, finance, labor organization and techno-scientific expertise—that transcend the energy sector, such that they can be considered integral to the reproduction of economic power.”

Link to the text.

  • More from the special issue: Ayşen Eren on hydroelectricity infrastructure in Turkey, Yifan Cai and Yuko Aoyama on wind power in China, and Trine Pallesen & Peter Holm Jacobsen on flexible energy consumption in Denmark. Link.
  • In a 2017 article, Remi Jedwab and Adam “introduce a new dataset on the evolution of the stocks of railroads (1862-2015) and multiple types of roads (1960-2015) for 43 sub-Saharan African countries” to analyze the “economic and political factors in infrastructure investment.” Link.
  • “Whilst there is a clear need to deliver quality and purposeful infrastructure such as shelter, access to clean water and electricity, the provision of a high-speed rail network is often more aspirational than essential. Failure to deliver infrastructure provision of essential needs and services is what we contend determines the ‘real infrastructure gap’ that should inform investment priorities but which all too often does not.” Harry T. Dimitriou & Brian G. Field reexamine the need for mega infrastructure. Link. And from the PW archive, Alice Tianbo Zhang reflects on the local consequences of development induced displacement. Link.
  • For more on investment in green infrastructure, see a recent PW essay by Anusar Farooqui and Tim Sahay on a proposal for a green finance ratings agency, and a conversation on investing in the low carbon transcription. Link, link.


School Finance Post-Desegregation

Esther Cyna is PhD candidate in History and Education at the Teachers College, Columbia University. In a recent paper, Cyna examines rural and urban school finance and political power in North Carolina.

From the paper:

“Two separate school districts—a city one and a county one—operated independently in Durham, North Carolina, until the early 1990s. The two districts merged relatively late compared to other North Carolina cities, such as Raleigh and Charlotte. In Durham, residents in both the county and city systems vehemently opposed the merger until the county commissioners ultimately bypassed a popular vote. Much of the city’s opposition to the merger stemmed from a fear of diluted black political influence under a merged system, even though the merger seemed to be the only way to equalize resources between the two districts. This tension between seeking equal resources and maintaining political power for the city school district existed and persisted because of historical, structural injustices in school financing schemes, legal constraints, and other policies that reinforced inequalities between urban and suburban areas. This article examines the evolution of these dynamics beyond the desegregation years. The constant tension between financial equity and political power, and the changing economic interests that came with the increased influence of the business community, shaped the merger story in Durham.”

Link to the paper, link to Cyna’s website.

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  • “The investment programs on the table are, bluntly speaking, inadequate to the task at hand. The question is how we can go bigger, how we can go bigger urgently, and how this can be done practically.” New on the blog, a transcript of a recent PW event on investment and decarbonization. Link.
  • Join us on Tuesday, June 22 at 6 pm ET for the next session of the Social Wealth Seminar, featuring Jason Windawi on the Alaska Permanent Fund and what makes guaranteed income durable. RSVP to (text: email: text:
  • On June 24 and 25, JFI will be participating in a UBI workshop on experiments, policies, and strategies, hosted by the Márica Basic Income Evaluation in Brazil. Link for more information, and sign up here.
  • “We find that temperature shocks affected agricultural production in El Salvador, which affected the labor market of agricultural workers…this is an important mechanism to explain rising international migration.” Ana Maria Ibáñez, Jimena Romero, Andrea Velásquez on climate change and migration. Link.
  • Rosaria E. A. Cardoso Amaral and Yewande S. Abraham on the effectiveness of a sustainable infrastructure rating system in East Timor. Link.
  • Daniel Gross and Bhaven Sampat on crisis innovation policy in the US from World War II to Covid-19. Link.
  • “To pull off a roaring 2020s, we should prepare to manage a boom, not fight it.” In the New York Times, Mike Konczal and J.W. Mason on inflation. Link.
  • In the Guardian, Thea Riofrancos on lithium mining. Link. And see a PW essay by JFI Lead Independent Researcher Francis Tseng on the subject. Link.
  • Adam Bonica, Jacob Grumbach, Charlotte Hill, and Hakeem Jefferson find that between 2014 and 2018, all-mail voting in Colorado increased turnout by 900,000 vote and reduced turnout inequality. Link.
  • Archana Prasad examines the role of women in the agrarian question, looking to peasant movement participation in India. Link.
  • “My research analyses data from a newly constructed database on Mughal conflicts, which includes information on 269 rebels for whom it is possible to determine their fates after they rebelled. 118 rebels (43%) were forgiven. Moreover, some of these rebels were forgiven multiple times. Importantly, these rebellions were not instigated by peasants but rather by wealthy individuals. There are many examples were peasants have been forgiven for their involvement in mass rebellions: the peasant’s revolt of 1381 in England or the Chiang-yin rebellion in Qing China. But in the Moghul era, wealthy rebellion could instigate many costly rebellions and the rulers could have responded by confiscating a rebel’s wealth thereby eliminating a threat and gaining income. I argue that it was rational for a revenue-maximising state to forgive rebellion leaders because this was a cost saving strategy.” By Safya Morshed. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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