Sunday, March 19, 2017

Don't hold your breath waiting for the next China


I keep thinking the "China miracle" ain't gonna happen elsewhere, and that the reason there was a Chinese miracle was that they had tens of thousands of scholars who knew ten years ago what the rest of the world is only figuring out now:

Tim Taylor - Africa's cities: the low development trap. Here's a long quote from the original authors:

In principle, cities should benefit businesses and people through increased economic density. Firms clustered in cities should be able to access a wider market of inputs and buyers, with reduced production costs thanks to scale economies. Workers should consume more diverse products and services, pay less for what they consume, and enjoy easier commutes because of proximity to their jobs. Africa’s cities feel crowded precisely because they are not dense with economic activity, infrastructure, or housing and commercial structures. ...

Typical African cities share three features that constrain urban development and create daily challenges for residents:


  • Crowded, not economically dense — investments in infrastructure, industrial and commercial structures have not kept pace with the concentration of people, nor have investments in affordable formal housing; congestion and its costs overwhelm the benefits of urban concentration.
  • Disconnected — cities have developed as collections of small and fragmented neighborhoods, lacking reliable transportation and limiting workers’ job opportunities while preventing firms from reaping scale and agglomeration benefits.
  • Costly for households and for firms — high nominal wages and transaction costs deter investors and trading partners, especially in regionally and internationally tradable sectors; workers’ high food, housing, and transport costs increase labor costs to firms and thus reduce expected returns on investment...
In sum, the ideal city can be viewed economically as an efficient labor market that matches employers and job seekers through connections (Bertaud 2014). The typical African city fails in this matchmaker role. A central reason for this failure — one that has not yet been sufficiently recognized — is that the city’s land use is fragmented. Its transport infrastructure is insufficient, and too much of its development occurs through expansion rather than infill. While the underlying causes of these problems are regulatory and institutional, the effects of spatial fragmentation are material: It limits urban economies. ... And without the economic density that gives rise to efficiency, Africa’s cities do not seem to increase worker productivity....

And that's why China's leadership was smart to build out their urban infrastructure ahead of time, "ghost cities" and all.


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