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Transport infrastructure, growth and persistence: The rise and demise of the Sui Canal

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  • Matthias Flückiger
  • Markus Ludwig

Abstract

This paper investigates the effect of transport infrastructure on the spatial distribution of population over two millennia. Focusing on the Sui Canal, one of history's greatest infrastructure projects, we show that its completion in the 7th century CE led to a strong increase in population concentration along the newly established transport artery. We exploit the fact that large parts of the canal fell into disrepair after the 12th century to analyze the persistence of this effect. We find that in 2010, more than 800 years after the Sui Canal fell into disuse, regions once directly connected to the canal are still more populous than areas that never had access. However, this population concentration is not mirrored in economic development. GDP per capita is lower in areas that lay along the course of the canal. One potential explanation for this finding is a change in the value of locational fundamentals as well as a shift in investments to the benefit of coastal regions since the initiation of the Open Door Policy in 1978. Infrastructure de transports, croissance et rémanence : avènement et effondrement du Grand Canal de Chine. Cet article étudie l’effet des infrastructures de transport sur la distribution spatiale de la population sur une période s’étalant sur plus de deux millénaires. En nous appuyant sur le Grand Canal de Chine, l’un des plus grands projets d’infrastructure de l’histoire, nous montrons que son achèvement au 7e siècle a conduit à une forte augmentation de la concentration de population autour de ce nouvel axe de circulation. Nous avons analysé la persistance de cet effet en prenant en compte le délabrement de vastes portions du canal au cours du 12e siècle. Nous avons observé qu’en 2010, soit plus de 800 ans après son abandon, les régions jadis directement connectées au Grand Canal étaient toujours plus peuplées que celles qui n’y ayant jamais eu accès. Néanmoins, cette concentration de population ne se traduit pas par un meilleur développement économique, le PIB par habitant des régions situées le long du canal étant plus faible. L’une des raisons possibles est une mutation des fondamentaux liés à la localisation ainsi qu’un transfert des investissements au profit des régions côtières suite à l’instauration de la doctrine de la porte ouverte initiée en 1978.

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  • Matthias Flückiger & Markus Ludwig, 2019. "Transport infrastructure, growth and persistence: The rise and demise of the Sui Canal," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 52(2), pages 624-666, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:canjec:v:52:y:2019:i:2:p:624-666
    DOI: 10.1111/caje.12378
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    JEL classification:

    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development

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