Time Magazine has an interesting article by Daniel Okrent about Detroit’s fate. What was once known as America’s Arsenal of Democracy and became the fourth largest city in the United States, shows signs of accelerated decay. Unemployment rate is almost 30%, business is all but (almost) shutdown, and the town of Robocop has nothing but a gloomy future. What is relevant in Okrent’s piece is his discussion on the political economy of Detroit’s failure. Populist politicians, overconfident automobile companies and pampered unionized workers intertwined to make of this Michigan city a urban disaster. Check out the pics of Detroit’s remains by Sean Hemmerle. They’re quite scary.
Dittmar, Jeremiah (2008) “Cities, Institutions, and Growth: The Emergence of Zipf’s Law”, Job Market Paper.
Zipf’s Law is a simple power law holding that the number of cities with population greater than N is proportionate to 1/N, this results in a log-linear relation between city population and city size rank (p.2). However, as shown by pre-modern European urban history, this law is not universal nor a-temporal (p.3). This outlying is very significant since economists have recognized that “there is an optimal level of urban concentration and that both over- and under- concentration can be very costly in terms of productivity growth” (p.4). When respecting the Zipf’s Law, city growth is considered random, so what prevented “normal” urban expansion and what later on made it possible? Read the rest of this entry »
Epstein Stephen R. (2000) “The origins of protoindustry, c.1300-c.1550”, in idem Freedom and Growth. The rise of states and markets in Europe, 1300-1750, New York/London: Routledge/LSE, p.106-146.
“The growth of rural and small town textile manufactures for regional and supra-regional markets was among the most significant features of the late medieval economy” (p.106). It is usually assumed that this phenomenon arose due to the diseconomies caused by the inflexibility of the urban craft guilds, using the available underemployed rural workforce, and to respond to the increased popular demand for consumer goods following the shift in terms of trade between capital and labour which followed the Black Death. Read the rest of this entry »
Bosker Maarten, Buringh Eltjo and van Zanden Jan Luiten (2008) “From Baghdad to London. The dynamics of urban growth in Europe and the Arab world, 800-1800”, CEPR.
In this article, the authors wonder how did Europe rose from insignificance to global domination from 800 to 1800, while the relative importance of the neighbouring Muslim regions decreased. They try to define the “preconditions for the genesis of the modern economic growth” (p.3) and to understand the roots of the European modernity. When did Europe and the Arab world diverge (p.4).? Read the rest of this entry »
Wiesner Merry E. (1999) “Having her own smoke. Employment and independence for singlewomen in Germany, 1400-1750” in Benett Judith M. and Froide Amy M., Singlewomen in the European past 1250-1800, Philadelphia: University Philadelphia Press, 192-213.
Premodern German cities commonly worried about their Frauenüberschuß, or surplus of women. As early as the 14th century from 15 to 25% of women were headed by singlewomen (p.192). Women married relatively late (25 to 28 in villages and 21 to 25 in cities; p.194).
Importantly the situation of never-married single women (as opposed to widows) varied considerably whether or not they children. Those with children were considerably poorer (p.195).
The rising tide of hatred
In the late 15th century Catholic humanist and later Protestant scholars reverted the medieval praise for the holy celibate to defend the values of marriage. Single men were targetted by moralists but they were too economically valuable to suffer significant legal persecution (p.196). Read the rest of this entry »
Here is one very interesting article, once more it is becoming clear that historians will have to take into consideration the work of neurologists, geneticist, psychologists, etc.
How the city hurts your brain
…And what you can do about it
By Jonah Lehrer boston.com
THE CITY HAS always been an engine of intellectual life, from the 18th-century coffeehouses of London, where citizens gathered to discuss chemistry and radical politics, to the Left Bank bars of modern Paris, where Pablo Picasso held forth on modern art. Without the metropolis, we might not have had the great art of Shakespeare or James Joyce; even Einstein was inspired by commuter trains.
And yet, city life isn’t easy. The same London cafes that stimulated Ben Franklin also helped spread cholera; Picasso eventually bought an estate in quiet Provence. While the modern city might be a haven for playwrights, poets, and physicists, it’s also a deeply unnatural and overwhelming place. Read the rest of this entry »
Galley Chris (1995) “A Model of Early Modern Urban Demography”, Economic History Review, 48/3, 448-469.
As early as 1662, researchers realized that there were an abnormally high number of death in cities relatively to the number of birth (p.448), great cities were deemed ‘the graves of mankind’. The negative natural growth was compensated by rural immigration and the cities played the role of sinks of their neighboring region’s demographic surpluses.
Sharlin (1978) proposed another interpretation: those migrants were predominantly poor and single and increased the mortality rate without affecting noticeably fertility. Thus, the permanent residents did not suffer a negative natural growth, the extra death were merely provided by the migrants. But this theory was soon dismissed by Finlay, although no further theory was advanced for lack of data (p.449). Read the rest of this entry »