The economics of density: Evidence from the Berlin Wall
Gabriel M. Ahlfeldt, Stephen Redding, Daniel M. Sturm, Nikolaus Wolf 20 August 2014
Economic activity is highly unevenly distributed across space. Understanding what drives the agglomeration and dispersion is important for many economic and policy questions. This column describes a theoretical model of internal city structure incorporating agglomeration and dispersion and heterogeneity in local fundamentals. The authors use the division and reunification of Berlin as a natural experiment. Their findings show that both heterogeneity in locational fundamentals and agglomeration forces are important in shaping a city’s internal structure.
Economic activity is highly unevenly distributed across space, as reflected in the existence of cities and the concentration of economic functions in specific locations within cities, such as Manhattan in New York and the Square Mile in London. Understanding the strength of the agglomeration and dispersion forces that underlie these concentrations of economic activity is central to a range of economic and policy questions. These forces shape the size and internal structure of cities, with implications for the incomes of immobile factors, congestion costs, and city productivity.
Europe's nations and regions Global economy Productivity and Innovation
Berlin, agglomeration, dispersion, density
Agglomeration and product innovation in China
Hongyong Zhang 21 July 2014
The Chinese government has been actively promoting innovation via policies such as R&D subsidies, tax relief, and location policies. Since 1995, central and local governments have established more than 100 clusters in over 60 cities. This column presents new evidence on the effect of the concentration of firms on product innovation (new products) in the manufacturing industries.
Spatial agglomeration of economic activities is generally assumed to improve productivity and spur firms’ innovation through localisation economies and urbanisation economies.1 There is an extensive empirical literature investigating the effects of localisation and urbanisation on firm-level productivity. Despite its economic importance, there are few empirical studies focusing on agglomeration and product innovation. Feldman and Audretsch (1999) and De Beule and Van Beveren (2010) are two of the few exceptions.
Productivity and Innovation
R&D, productivity, China, spatial concentration, innovation, subsidies, clusters, agglomeration
How history can contribute to better economic education
Coen Teulings 11 July 2014
The financial crisis and the Great Recession have led to calls for more economic history in economic education. This column argues for a much broader use of history in economics courses, as a device for teaching both the logic and the empirical relevance of economics. A proposed curriculum would include the rise of agriculture, urbanisation, war, the rule of law, and demography.
Historians tend to stress the particularities in history. Each event is unique, caused by a set of conditions that will never reproduce themselves again. In turn, each event causes new events, which therefore are equally unique and equally irreproducible. Hence, historians conduct painstaking research into the details of these conditions to understand the course of history.
Economic history Education
geography, institutions, Agriculture, economic history, Industrial Revolution, urbanisation, agglomeration, history, new economic geography
Did the internet prevent all invention from moving to one place?
Chris Forman, Avi Goldfarb, Shane Greenstein 23 May 2014
The diffusion of the internet has had varying effects on the location of economic activity, leading to both increases and decreases in geographic concentration. This column presents evidence that the internet worked against increasing concentration in invention. This relationship is particularly strong for inventions with more than one inventor, and when inventors live in different cities.
Reading the technology press, it often seems as if the media think all high-tech invention happens in Silicon Valley. This parochial viewpoint highlights the ‘agglomeration’ advantages that the Valley provides to inventors because so many technology firms are located in the same place. These advantages include easier access to funding from local venture capitalists, sharing of fixed costs such as specialised patent lawyers, and easier exchange of ideas between researchers.
Frontiers of economic research Productivity and Innovation
patents, information technology, technology, agglomeration, internet, economic geography, invention
Making city lights shine brighter
Shahid Yusuf, Danny Leipziger,
Urbanisation and GDP per capita are positively correlated across countries. However, when the sample is restricted to developing countries, urbanisation and growth are more loosely related – particularly in Africa. CEPR Policy Insight 71 argues that the low share of manufacturing in developing-country cities may help to explain this discrepancy. Strengthening urban finances, embracing technology, improving skills, and stimulating the formal sector will help cities to promote growth. Since decisions affecting urban development can have lasting impact, longer-term planning deserves greater attention than it is currently receiving.
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Making city lights burn brighter
Danny Leipziger, Shahid Yusuf 03 March 2014
Urbanisation and GDP per capita are positively correlated across countries. However, when the sample is restricted to developing countries, urbanisation and growth are more loosely related – particularly in Africa. This column argues that the low share of manufacturing in developing-country cities may help to explain this discrepancy. Strengthening urban finances, embracing technology, improving skills, and stimulating the formal sector will help cities to promote growth. Since decisions affecting urban development can have lasting impact, longer-term planning deserves greater attention than it is currently receiving.
Urbanisation and per capita GDP are well correlated.1 According to a recent estimate by Gilles Duranton using cross-country data for 2012 (see Figure 1), each percentage point of urbanisation is associated with a five-percentage-point increase in GDP per capita, with urbanisation apparently explaining 60% of the variation in incomes.
Figure 1. Urbanisation and GDP per capita
growth, Inequality, externalities, cities, urbanisation, agglomeration, slums
Historical trends of agglomeration to the capital region
Takatoshi Tabuchi 28 November 2013
Two important long-run trends in economic geography are steady urbanisation and agglomeration to the big cities. This column presents recent research on population trends focusing on fixed regions over time. In seven of the eight countries studied, the region containing the largest metropolitan area significantly increased in population share at the expense of the rest of the country over the past few centuries. A ‘new economic geography’ model with multiple, asymmetric regions can replicate this new stylised fact.
The first stylised fact about regional population distribution is the steady progress of urbanisation. As shown in Figure 1, the urban population percentage has been steadily growing for a long time all over the world (United Nations 2011).
Figure 1. Urban population share by major geographical area
cities, urbanisation, agglomeration, new economic geography, capital cities
Competing successfully in a globalising world: Lessons from Lancashire
Nicholas Crafts, Nikolaus Wolf 22 October 2013
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.
The ‘first globalisation’ of the 19th century – driven by the substantial falls in trade costs associated with the age of steam – saw the ‘First Unbundling’ (Baldwin 2006), in which industrial production and consumption became spatially separated, often by large distances. The period was characterised by the simultaneous processes of industrialisation in Europe and de-industrialisation in Asia (Table 1).
Table 1. Shares of world manufacturing output (%)
Economic history International trade
globalisation, wages, trade, Industrial Revolution, cities, agglomeration, industrialisation, Lancashire, cotton
Do large departments make academics more productive? Agglomeration and peer effects in research
Clément Bosquet, Pierre-Philippe Combes 21 June 2013
Every academic has an opinion about what makes a good department. This column brings evidence from French economics departments. It suggests that larger departments are associated with slightly more but no better publications per academic. And while diversity in terms of researcher quality lowers average publication quality, diversity in research topics increases it.
Every academic has an opinion about what makes a good department. Surprisingly, there are few hard studies quantifying this precisely, although possible implications for an optimal design of education and research policies are numerous. Aghion et al. (2010) is an example of the general recent concern about the optimal design and governance of universities.
In our recent work, we try to start filling this gap and study the effect on individual publication records of a large set of department characteristics (Bosquet and Combes 2013).
Education Productivity and Innovation
France, Peer Effects, agglomeration
Caution to place makers: Greater firm density does not always promote incumbent firm health
William Kerr, Oliver Falck, Christina Günther, Stephan Heblich 11 February 2013
Governments around the world are fostering industrial ‘clusters’, hoping to create agglomeration economies. Using the political division of Germany in 1949, this column argues that heightened firm density can raise costs for incumbent firms in addition to the often-cited agglomeration benefits. This is important for policymakers contemplating efforts to promote their local areas by targeted cluster initiatives and bidding to attract large firms. Policy efforts that are neutral in orientation – such as physical infrastructure investments or improving the generation and dissemination of knowledge – may be more effective alternatives.
A common theme in economic geography is that increasing returns to scale at the local level are essential for explaining the geographical distribution of economic activity. These agglomerative forces are often cited as a rationale for policy intervention to attract new firms to areas. Tight geographic concentration, however, can also raise countervailing costs as firms compete for local inputs. This makes the gains from increased spatial concentration around incumbent firms uncertain.
Germany, clusters, agglomeration, East Germany