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Explaining the size distribution of cities: Extreme economies

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  • Marcus Berliant
  • Hiroki Watanabe

Abstract

The empirical regularity known as Zipf's law or the rank‐size rule has motivated development of a theoretical literature to explain it. We examine the assumptions on consumer behavior, particularly about their inability to insure against the city‐level productivity shocks, implicitly used in this literature. With either self‐insurance or insurance markets, and either an arbitrarily small cost of moving or the assumption that consumers do not perfectly observe the shocks to firms' technologies, the agents will never move. Even without these frictions, our analysis yields another equilibrium with insurance where consumers never move. Thus, insurance is a substitute for movement. We propose an alternative class of models, involving extreme risk against which consumers will not insure. Instead, they will move, generating a Fréchet distribution of city sizes that is empirically competitive with other models.

Suggested Citation

  • Marcus Berliant & Hiroki Watanabe, 2015. "Explaining the size distribution of cities: Extreme economies," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 6(1), pages 153-187, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:quante:v:6:y:2015:i:1:p:153-187
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jan Eeckhout, 2004. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1429-1451, December.
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    4. Berliant, Marcus & Kung, Fan-chin, 2006. "Can Information Asymmetry Cause Agglomeration?," MPRA Paper 1278, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 29 Dec 2006.
    5. Kristian Behrens & Gilles Duranton & Frédéric Robert-Nicoud, 2014. "Productive Cities: Sorting, Selection, and Agglomeration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 122(3), pages 507-553.
    6. Starrett, David, 1978. "Market allocations of location choice in a model with free mobility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 21-37, February.
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    9. Xavier Gabaix, 2011. "The Granular Origins of Aggregate Fluctuations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(3), pages 733-772, May.
    10. Duranton, Gilles, 2006. "Some foundations for Zipf's law: Product proliferation and local spillovers," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 542-563, July.
    11. Jan Eeckhout, 2009. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1676-1683, September.
    12. Gabaix, Xavier & Ioannides, Yannis M., 2004. "The evolution of city size distributions," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics,in: J. V. Henderson & J. F. Thisse (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 53, pages 2341-2378 Elsevier.
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    15. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf's Law for Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767.
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    Cited by:

    1. Berliant, Marcus & Watanabe, Hiroki, 2011. "A scale-free transportation network explains the city-size distribution," MPRA Paper 34820, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. OSHIRO Jun & SATO Yasuhiro, 2016. "Industrial Structure in Urban Accounting," Discussion papers 16105, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    3. Ho Yeon KIM & Petra de Jong & Jan Rouwendal & Aleid Brouwer, 2012. "Shrinking population and the urban hierarchy
      [Housing preferences and attribute importance among Dutch older adults: a conjoint choice experiment]
      ," ERSA conference papers ersa12p350, European Regional Science Association.
    4. Duranton, Gilles & Puga, Diego, 2014. "The Growth of Cities," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 5, pages 781-853 Elsevier.
    5. Kim, Ho Yeon, 2012. "Shrinking population and the urban hierarchy," IDE Discussion Papers 360, Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization(JETRO).
    6. Duranton, Gilles & Puga, Diego, 2014. "The Growth of Cities," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 5, pages 781-853 Elsevier.
    7. Wen-Tai Hsu & Thomas J. Holmes, 2009. "Optimal City Hierarchy: A Dynamic Programming Approach to Central Place Theory," 2009 Meeting Papers 342, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    8. Ramos, Arturo & Sanz-Gracia, Fernando, 2015. "US city size distribution revisited: Theory and empirical evidence," MPRA Paper 64051, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Tomoya Mori & Tony E. Smith, 2009. "A Reconsideration of the NAS Rule from an Industrial Agglomeration Perspective," KIER Working Papers 669, Kyoto University, Institute of Economic Research.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)

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