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A World of Cities: The Causes and Consequences of Urbanization in Poorer Countries

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  • Edward L. Glaeser

Abstract

Historically, urban growth required enough development to grow and transport significant agricultural surpluses or a government effective enough to build an empire. But there has been an explosion of poor mega-cities over the last thirty years. A simple urban model illustrates that in closed economies, agricultural prosperity leads to more urbanization but that in an open economy, urbanization increases with agricultural desperation. The challenge of developing world mega-cities is that poverty and weak governance reduce the ability to address the negative externalities that come with density. This paper models the connection between urban size and institutional failure, and shows that urban anonymity causes institutions to break down. For large cities with weak governments, draconian policies may be the only way to curb negative externalities, suggesting a painful tradeoff between dictatorship and disorder. A simple model suggests that private provision of infrastructure to reduce negative externalities is less costly when city populations are low or institutions are strong, but that public provision can cost less in bigger cities.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser, 2013. "A World of Cities: The Causes and Consequences of Urbanization in Poorer Countries," NBER Working Papers 19745, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19745
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David Friedman, 1999. "Why Not Hang Them All: The Virtues of Inefficient Punishment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages 259-269, December.
    2. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Krugman, Paul & Elizondo, Raul Livas, 1996. "Trade policy and the Third World metropolis," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 137-150, April.
    4. repec:hoo:wpaper:e-92-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Ethier, Wilfred, 1979. "Internationally decreasing costs and world trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 1-24, February.
    6. Matsuyama, Kiminori, 1992. "Agricultural productivity, comparative advantage, and economic growth," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 317-334, December.
    7. Alberto F. Ades & Edward L. Glaeser, 1995. "Trade and Circuses: Explaining Urban Giants," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 195-227.
    8. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 1999. "Why Is There More Crime in Cities?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages 225-258, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:ksa:szemle:1758 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Douglas Gollin & Remi Jedwab & Dietrich Vollrath, 2016. "Urbanization with and without industrialization," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 21(1), pages 35-70, March.
    3. Jedwab, Remi & Vollrath, Dietrich, 2015. "Urbanization without growth in historical perspective," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 1-21.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • R0 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General

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