Dittmar J. (2008) The emergence of Zipf’s Law

April 2, 2009

Dittmar, Jeremiah (2008) “Cities, Institutions, and Growth: The Emergence of Zipf’s Law”, Job Market Paper.


This paper is available on line.


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 »

McCants A. (2008) The diffusion of tea and coffee drinking in the 18th-century Netherlands

January 26, 2009

McCants Anne E.C. (2008) “Poor consumers as global consumers: the diffusion of tea and coffee drinking in the eighteenth century”, Economic History Review, 61/S1, 172-200.



The 17th century saw the introduction of “foods would entirely eclipse the centrality of bread in the rituals of western sociability” (p.172). The idea of a consumer revolution may sound far fetched since the industry lacked the power to reshape the structure of demand and the colonial trade only accounted for 17% of the Dutch international trade at its peak in the 18th century (or 1% of GNP of western Europe and 10% of gross investment; p.173). So were colonial goods (tea, coffee, chocolate, tobacco and sugar), generally considered a significant part of the Industrious Revolution, as important as they are commonly thought to be? Read the rest of this entry »

Galley C. (1995) Were cities meat grainers or not?

January 8, 2009

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 »

Kim S. (2006) Division of labour and the rise of cities

December 28, 2008

Kim Sukkoo [2006] “Division of labor and the rise of cities: evidence from US industrialization, 1850-1880”, Journal of Economic Geography, 6/3, 469-491.

“In the USA, the Industrial Revolution occurred in two distinct phases between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Between 1820 and 1840, early industrialization began in New England as manufacturing re-organized from artisanal shops to non-mechanized factories in a relatively small number of industries such as textile, leather, and shoes. In the second phase of industrialisation, which occurred between 1850 and 1920, factory production rose in scale, became mechanized, and spread to numerous industries and to the North-eastern region known as the manufacturing belt” (p.469). Read the rest of this entry »