Op-Ed: On Infrastructure, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

    View Author February 2017

    The following are excerpts from an op-ed authored by global Infrastructure Group co-chair D. Bruce Gabriel in Investor's Business Daily:

    I first encountered this acronym in the early 1970s when a high school social studies teacher wrote it across a blackboard. He promoted an analytical, market-oriented approach to socioeconomic issues at a time when the curriculum and teaching were dominated by searing, emotional debates prompted by the Vietnam War. TANSTAAFL: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

    I was reminded of his lesson by a recent front-page article in The New York Times concerning bad public sector experiences with privatization of public infrastructure – "In American Towns, Pumping Private Profit from Public Works." In its timing and effect, the article seemed calculated to raise concerns about our new president's"trillion dollar" proposal to address the nation's public infrastructure deficit by providing incentives for much greater private investment.

    All of us need to get beyond the public versus private sector debate if the nation is to address its public infrastructure deficit. Let us accept that private participation can add value in appropriate circumstances with proper execution. This issue is a distraction from far more fundamental issues we must address, many of which flow from our federal system of government and historic deference to local determination.


    Our existing public infrastructure deficit presents an opportunity – to enhance the efficient use of our existing infrastructure and to thoughtfully consider and adopt new tools to address our needs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. The money to meet our infrastructure needs exists and can be made available. Much of it is in search of sensible, executable investments that have the support of state and local governments and their constituents.

    Federal leadership is needed not only to provide fiscal support, but also to garner the state and local administrative, fiscal and popular support needed to realize the opportunity.