Political Preferences and the Spatial Distribution of Infrastructure: Evidence from California's High-Speed Rail
Speaker(s)Edouard Schaal (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain)
LocationTinbergen Institute Amsterdam, room 1.01
Date and time
May 04, 2023
12:00 - 13:00
How do people's political preferences and policymakers' preferences for redistribution or popular approval shape transportation policy? We study these questions in the context of California's High-Speed Rail (CHSR). First, combining geographic data on votes for the project with model-based predictions of its expected economic benefits, we estimate the weight of economic and political components in voters' preferences. Voting is responsive to the expected real-income benefits from the project, but proxies for political preferences (such as party affiliation) are much stronger drivers of the aggregate vote and of the spatial distribution of expected welfare effects. We estimate modest expected real-income gains from the voter-approved CHSR, but political preferences are so strong that counterfactual proposals with sizable expected income losses would have also been approved. We then estimate the preferences of a hypothetical social planner by comparing the expected impact of the CHSR under its observed design and under counterfactual station placements. We find a large variance in the planners' Pareto weights across census tracts. Solving for optimal CHSR designs under alternative planner preferences, we identify stations whose observed placement was the result of political or distributional concerns.
This is joint work with Pablo Fajgelbaum, Cecile Gaubert, Nicole Gorton, Eduardo Morales.