Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Quickies: Population And The Economic Model

     Mark “Mad Dog” Sherman makes some observations about population trends and their relation to the Industrial Revolution:

     The industrial socio-economic model required lots of employees, large factories, proximity to resources, whether raw or manufactured, and the city provided these features. During the early phases of the IR the cost of transporting steel, coal, and other parts and resources was so expensive that cities grew up to allow everything necessary from raw materials to energy to final manufacturing or assembly to occur in one place, a place with guaranteed numbers of people looking for work.

     We are at the end of the IR socio-economic model. Whatever is to come will not look like the IR any more than the IR looked like the socio-economic model, which was the Agricultural Revolution which preceded it.

     Will cities make the jump to the next socio-economic model? They were all but non-existent before the IR, why would we need the city after the denouement of the IR? Perhaps we will, I don't know, but I don't see a reason we would.

     Indeed. The city dominated the industrial economy for many reasons. Mark mentions several above. I would add that industrial efficiency militates toward geographic concentration; the costs and difficulties of running a distributed enterprise that requires large amounts of physical capital will always exceed those of running a concentrated one. Also, the typical industrial city is usually on a waterway that supports inexpensive transportation of both resources and goods.

     It’s possible that a major driver of the Information Revolution has been the desire for redispersal. Given a choice, people generally prefer to have some space around them, some green, and the sense of freedom of movement that accompanies those things. But whether that’s been any part of the motivation is irrelevant to the effects of such developments as high-speed digital communications, robotics, and the like. Those things have allowed Americans to spread out yet retain the prosperity and most of the other advantages of Industrial Era patterns.

     As the great Lawrence Peter Berra would tell you, prediction is difficult, especially when it’s about the future. But the trends in motion appear to me to indicate that dispersal will continue, at least in the near term. Some of that dispersal might even be upward, but that must await still further developments.


sykes.1 said...

I have to disagree. First, the industrial/manufacturing economy is not going away. It is getting bigger, as it must, and it is drawing in more people, as it must. Our own government's policies have partially de-industrialized the US, but those manufacturing merely relocated to places that permitted cost savings. China, India, and Brazil are the models here. Especially China, whose urbanization has been spectacular and is continuing. All those so-called empty cities are the basis of an expanded manufacturing base.

And the fundamental logic of the city remains. Transportation costs drive centralization of manufacturing wherever it is, and this centralization requires a supporting economy nearby, which is a city. It applies to the services/financial/medical/legal businesses, too. While an individual can work at home, these businesses also require centralization and cities. Wall Street cannot be replaced by laptops.

Cities have always absorbed excess rural/agricultural populations, and this is still going on, especially in the Third World. A good deal of the pressure for Third World urbanization comes from population growth and sharply limited farmland. Americans tend to forget that a large chunk of the World's farmland is sitting between the Appalachians and the Rockies. The other big chunk is Ukraine/Russia. Much of China and India is not arable.

So, unless someone releases a real pandemic, one with 90% mortality, cities are here to stay.

Maddog said...

Thanks for the link!



I was in China last year on business - really had one day in Hong Kong and the rest was shuttling from one supplier to another. :(

Crowded like you can't imagine. And no concept of "personal space" either... a pandemic like Ebola would rip through there like a hot steak knife through butter.

Linda Fox said...

The Control necessary to keep the cities inhabitable, as opposed to suburban/rural communities, severely limits the freedoms of the individuals. I don't like it - I grew up in a relatively urban area, but, today, I find them noisy, dirty, and dangerous.

Smaller communities used to be able to rely on well-accepted norms of behavior. Women have largely abdicated their role in maintaining social order, and the communities show that absence. I think that women have to return to their traditional role of enforcing community standards, or life will become even more difficult in the future.