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The Economic Approach to Cities

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  • Glaeser, Edward L.

    (Harvard U)

Abstract

The economic approach to cities relies on a spatial equilibrium for workers, employers and builders. The worker’s equilibrium implies that positive attributes in one location, like access to downtown or high wages, are offset by negative attributes, like high housing prices. The employer’s equilibrium requires that high wages be offset by a high level of productivity, perhaps due to easy access to customers or suppliers. The search for the sources of productivity differences that can justify high wages is the basis for the study of agglomeration economies which has been a significant branch of urban economics in the past 20 years. The builder’s equilibrium condition pushes us to understand the causes of supply differences across space that can explain why some places have abundant construction and low prices while others have little construction and high prices. Since the economic theory of cities emphasizes a search for exogenous causes of endogenous outcomes like local wages, housing prices and city growth, it is unsurprising that the economic empirics on cities have increasingly focused on the quest for exogenous sources of variation. The economic approach to urban policy emphasizes the need to focus on people, rather than places, as the ultimate objects of policy concern and the need for policy to anticipate the mobility of people and firms.

Suggested Citation

  • Glaeser, Edward L., 2008. "The Economic Approach to Cities," Working Paper Series rwp08-003, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp08-003
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    File URL: https://research.hks.harvard.edu/publications/workingpapers/citation.aspx?PubId=5382&type=WPN
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gilles Duranton & Diego Puga, 2001. "Nursery Cities: Urban Diversity, Process Innovation, and the Life Cycle of Products," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1454-1477, December.
    2. Edward L. Glaeser, Jed Kolko, and Albert Saiz, 2001. "Consumer city," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(1), pages 27-50, January.
    3. Sandra E. Black, 1999. "Do Better Schools Matter? Parental Valuation of Elementary Education," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(2), pages 577-599.
    4. Edward Glaeser & Janet Kohlhase, 2003. "Cities, regions and the decline of transport costs," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 83(1), pages 197-228, October.
    5. Gyourko, Joseph & Tracy, Joseph, 1991. "The Structure of Local Public Finance and the Quality of Life," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(4), pages 774-806, August.
    6. Edward L. Glaeser & Matthew E. Kahn, 2001. "Decentralized Employment and the Transformation of the American City," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1912, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    7. Katz, Lawrence & Rosen, Kenneth T, 1987. "The Interjurisdictional Effects of Growth Controls on Housing Prices," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 149-160, April.
    8. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2000. "Does Competition among Public Schools Benefit Students and Taxpayers?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1209-1238, December.
    9. Edward L. Glaeser & Bryce A. Ward, 2006. "The Causes and Consequences of Land Use Regulation: Evidence from Greater Boston," NBER Working Papers 12601, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Beason, Richard & Weinstein, David E, 1996. "Growth, Economies of Scale, and Targeting in Japan (1955-1990)," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 78(2), pages 286-295, May.
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    12. Roback, Jennifer, 1982. "Wages, Rents, and the Quality of Life," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(6), pages 1257-1278, December.
    13. Rauch James E., 1993. "Productivity Gains from Geographic Concentration of Human Capital: Evidence from the Cities," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 380-400, November.
    14. Edward L. Glaeser & Matthew E. Kahn & Jordan Rappaport, 2000. "Why Do The Poor Live In Cities?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1891, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    15. Thomas J. Holmes, 1996. "The effects of state policies on the location of industry: evidence from state borders," Staff Report 205, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    16. Lawrence F. Katz & Jeffrey R. Kling & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2001. "Moving to Opportunity in Boston: Early Results of a Randomized Mobility Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 607-654.
    17. Rosenthal, Stuart S. & Strange, William C., 2001. "The Determinants of Agglomeration," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 191-229, September.
    18. LeRoy, Stephen F. & Sonstelie, Jon, 1983. "Paradise lost and regained: Transportation innovation, income, and residential location," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 67-89, January.
    19. Joseph Gyourko & Albert Saiz, 2006. "Construction Costs And The Supply Of Housing Structure," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(4), pages 661-680.
    20. Edward L. Glaeser & Matthew E. Kahn, 1999. "From John Lindsay to Rudy Giuliani: the decline of the local safety net?," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue Sep, pages 117-132.
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    Cited by:

    1. Farole, Thomas & Reis, Jose Guilherme & Wagle, Swarnim, 2010. "Analyzing trade competitiveness : a diagnostics approach," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5329, The World Bank.
    2. Waśniewski, Krzysztof, 2012. "Local governments’ fiscal policy as a factor of urban development – evidence from Poland," MPRA Paper 39176, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. repec:eee:soceps:v:58:y:2017:i:c:p:30-38 is not listed on IDEAS

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