Transport Infrastructure, Long-Run Development, and Policy: Evidence from England and Wales, c.1817 to 2011

This research project will study the long-run interactions between transport infrastructure and economic development using spatially-disaggregated data for England and Wales over the period c.1817—2011. It will look to inform policy toward large investments in physical infrastructures.

“Despite the scale of public expenditure on transport infrastructure, standard models of growth and development do not incorporate any role for transport costs. This is not only because of the complexity of the problem but also because of the scarcity of adequately long datasets that may be used to draw out the long-run dynamic effects of infrastructure improvements. Our understanding of the interactions between infrastructure and development is thus severely limited. That leaves little to guide policymakers making decisions about sizeable public infrastructure investments.

This research project addresses that shortcoming. We combine a 200-year long panel of occupational data in over 10,000 parishes covering England and Wales with digital maps of the important infrastructure developments over the same period. This dataset presents an opportunity to conduct a great deal of previously impossible empirical analysis of the complex, long-run effects of infrastructure. This project addresses a number of key questions, such as, over what period may the gains from infrastructure investment accrue? Is there an economy-wide impact on growth of investment in the infrastructure of particular regions or sectors? What is the impact of over- or under-investment in infrastructure?

With those historically-grounded empirical findings to guide us, we will build new models of economic development that treat infrastructure more seriously by incorporating transport costs. This combination of history-based empirics and reality-based models will put this project in a position to improve materially the political and public debate surrounding infrastructure investment.