The world is urbanising quickly but many cities are poorly located. Such misplacement is associated with bad access to the world markets and frequent natural disasters. This column explores historical evidence of French and English towns during the Roman Empire and in the Middle Ages. Path-dependency in the city locations explains the difference in their development and suggests relevant policymaking lessons.
Based on statistical measures of different degrees of democracy vs. autocracy, this article briefly reviews the progress of democracy around the world during the past 212 years, and places democratic developments in Africa since 1960 in that context. Democracy is positively associated with education, which in turn is associated with lower fertility and greater longevity. Democracy is also associated with reduced corruption. Together, these effects suggest democracy should be good for growth – a hypothesis that is borne out by the data.
The economic divergence we observe today was existent even a thousand years ago. Thanks to recent work on historical data, we can now trace the economic development of different countries centuries back in the past. This column discusses the roots of the Great Divergence between European and Asian economies. The column argues that divergence is due to the differential impact of shocks that hit economies with different structural features.
Several theories link polygamy to poverty. Polygamy is concentrated in west Africa and has declined in recent decades. Geographic variation in women’s agricultural productivity does not predict differences in the prevalence of polygamy, but historical inequality and exposure to the slave trade do. Although contemporary female education does not reduce polygamy, areas with more educational investment in the past have less polygamy today. Conflict and lower rainfall lead to small increases in polygamy, whereas lower child mortality leads to a large decrease. National policies appear to have little effect.
Europeans worry about competition from low-wage economies. This column looks at the basis of the success of the 19th-century Lancashire cotton industry faced with a similar situation. The message is that the productivity benefits of a successful agglomeration can underpin both high wages and competitive advantage in world trade. Policymakers can support such agglomerations by easing land-use restrictions, promoting investments in transport, and providing local public goods.
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Adelman, 28 October 2013
Reichlin, Giugliano, 7 November 2013