Urbanisation and the Onset of Modern Economic Growth

Source: The Economic Journal.

This paper dovetails with the premise of a post I wrote in the Forum awhile back about Göbekli Tepe. The archaeological site appears to confound the standard theory that cities (civilization) emerged from agricultural communities. Göbekli Tepe was an advanced city 10,000 years ago, but there is no evidence of prior or contemporary agriculture in the area.

Here’s the paper’s abstract:

A large literature characterizes urbanisation as resulting from productivity growth attracting rural workers to cities. Incorporating economic geography elements into a growth model, we suggest that causation runs the other way: when rural workers move to cities, the resulting urbanisation produces technological change and productivity growth. Urban density leads to knowledge exchange and innovation, thus creating a positive feedback loop between city size and productivity that initiates sustained economic growth. This model is consistent with the fact that urbanisation rates in Western Europe, most notably England, reached unprecedented levels by the mid-18th century, the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

2 thoughts on “Urbanisation and the Onset of Modern Economic Growth

  1. People need food, water and shelter. Daily.

    If there was a movement towards urbanization before industrial concentration of jobs, what provided the basics before the jobs arrived?

    Next, was it the landowner or the farming laborer that moved to better jobs?

    We had a Great Migration towards urban areas that was precipitated by the availability of jobs as opposed to share cropping. But that was not the only reason. Live was physically dangerous and unnecessarily cruel for Blacks in the South. It was a social construct of a racial caste system, not solely economic decision making, that encouraged relocation.

    This migration was long after industrialization, of course. But the growth and concentration of population in cities continued unabated until now.

    Manufacturing with human labor requires a concentration of workers. China has taken that to the extreme with literal barracks for workers near the major companies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: “If there was a movement towards urbanization before industrial concentration of jobs, what provided the basics before the jobs arrived?”

      That is exactly the puzzle of Göbekli Tepe. The neolithic architecture of the site was labor intensive to produce and required a large population that local resources could not have sustained. One possible explanation is that the site was built along a pre-existing trade route. Another is that the site may have been of such cultural value that the inhabitants arranged for goods to be imported, although it is anyone’s guess what the cultural significance might have been.

      More generally, I’m fascinated by the idea that a city in and of itself is like a machine or factory that generates new technology. This practical effect of urbanization makes it easier to see how the industrial revolution created more jobs than the cottage industries it replaced ever could.


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