Norwegian roads and swing voters February 24, 2009Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics, Political economy, Public Policy , trackback
In recent weeks, there has been som controversy in Norwegian media over an article by Leif Helland and Rune J. Sørensen of the Norwegian School of Management (BI) about a systemic skew in Norwegian road building. Their research shows that there appears to be systematic self-serving rational choice behavior by Norwegian politicians, as districts with important swing voters tend to get more grants for road building, and that this affects the social efficiency of road building in general. Read the article (link at the bottom) for more on their findings.
This was picked up by Norwegian media when Norwegian parliamentarians met with Swedish counterparts and presented under the heading “Met by laughter in Sweden”. What the Swedes were laughing at was the level of micromanagement in road building that the Norwegian parliament is involved in. In Norway, every road builiding project is a parliament issue, and Helland and Sørensen have proved that this leads to non-optimal distributions of road construction money.
Norwegian Secretary of Transportation Liv Signe Navarsete doesn’t get the most important point:
– These are scientists that think the country can be planned with a calculator and that obviously find it profitable to close down local communities. There are numerous considerations to be made regarding housing distribution, industry and tourism. We need to develop business and work all over the country, not just in central areas. (Aftenposten, my translation)
The virtues of cost-benefit analysis can of course be debated, and there is a long standing Norwegian tradition of valuing distributed settlement of a lot higher than what is done in economic models. I think politicians might have been over-valuing it, but that isn’t the most important point here.
The most disturbing point isn’t that the distribution of money is non-optimal from a cost-benefit perspective. That’s the nature of politics. The big problem is that there is a skewed distribution as a result of election strategy concerns. That is the point that should be debated, and which Secretary Navarsete is drawing attention away from. Valuing decentralized communities highly is acceptable from a democratic point of view. Consistently bribing swing voters with public money isn’t.
- Helland and Sørensen (2008) [Requires subscription] “Geographical Redistribution with disproportional representation: a politico-economic model of Norwegian road projects.” Public Choice, October 2008
- Helland and Sørensen (2008) [Open access] “Geographical Redistribution with disproportional representation: a politico-economic model of Norwegian road projects.” Open access working document, Oslo:BI
- Are Slettan [in Norwegian]: “Navarsete ler av forskere“