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Explaining the size distribution of cities: X-treme economies

  • Berliant, Marcus
  • Watanabe, Hiroki

The methodology used by theories to explain the size distribution of cities is contrived in that it takes an empirical fact and works backward to first obtain a reduced form of a model, then pushes this reduced form back to assumptions on primitives. The induced assumptions on consumer behavior, particularly about their ability to insure against the city-level productivity shocks in the model, are untenable. 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. Equilibrium implies a uniform distribution of agents. Even without these frictions, our analysis yields another equilibrium with insurance that gives exactly the same utility level to consumers as the equilibrium studied in the literature, but where consumers never move. Thus, insurance is a substitute for movement. Even aggregate shocks are insufficent to generate consumer movement, since consumers can borrow and save. We propose an alternative class of models, involving extreme risk against which consumers will not insure. Instead, they will move.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 5428.

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Date of creation: 24 Oct 2007
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:5428
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  1. Berliant, Marcus & Kung, Fan-chin, 2010. "Can Information Asymmetry Cause Stratification?," MPRA Paper 21395, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Kristian Behrens & Gilles Duranton & Fr�d�ric Robert-Nicoud, 2014. "Productive Cities: Sorting, Selection, and Agglomeration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 122(3), pages 507 - 553.
  3. Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Mark L. J. Wright, 2003. "Urban structure and growth," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 141, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  4. Jan Eeckhout, 2004. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1429-1451, December.
  5. M. Goldstein & S. Morris & G. Yen, 2004. "Problems with fitting to the power-law distribution," The European Physical Journal B - Condensed Matter and Complex Systems, Springer, vol. 41(2), pages 255-258, 09.
  6. Xavier Gabaix, 2005. "The Granular Origins of Aggregate Fluctuations," 2005 Meeting Papers 470, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  7. 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.
  8. Berliant, Marcus & Kung, Fan-chin, 2008. "Can Information Asymmetry Cause Agglomeration?," MPRA Paper 7414, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  9. 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.
  10. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf's Law and the Growth of Cities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 129-132, May.
  11. Xavier Gabaix, 1999. "Zipf'S Law For Cities: An Explanation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 739-767, August.
  12. 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.
  13. Jonathan Eaton & Samuel Kortum, 2002. "Technology, Geography, and Trade," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(5), pages 1741-1779, September.
  14. Gilles Duranton, 2007. "Urban Evolutions: The Fast, the Slow, and the Still," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 197-221, March.
  15. Jan Eeckhout, 2009. "Gibrat's Law for (All) Cities: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1676-83, September.
  16. Fujita, Masahisa & Mori, Tomoya, 1997. "Structural stability and evolution of urban systems," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(4-5), pages 399-442, August.
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