Arnold Kling  

Geography and Economic Destiny

Fuzzy Math... Two Ideas from Brad Templeton...

Megan McArdle writes,

Ten thousand years or so after the first humans built sailing ships for trade, the coast still matters immensely. In fact, there are only two prosperous landlocked countries of any size: Austria and Switzerland.

Read the whole thing.

Paul Collier, in The Bottom Billion, emphasizes that being landlocked is a real handicap.

Think about how important the Erie Canal was. Or the Suez Canal. Or the Panama Canal. Try to name a city that was important in 1830 (i.e., before railroads) that is not located on a major river.

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COMMENTS (14 to date)
John Thacker writes:

Of course, North Carolina was only moderately important before railroads, especially compared to states like Virginia that had ports.

Jim Dew writes:

Thomas Sowell published a very good analysis on the impact of geography on economic development years ago in Forbes. He noted Africa's lack of navigable rivers (except the Nile).

C L writes:

Madrid? The city dates to 1656, and isn't a port by any means. The Manzanares River is close, but isn't navigable.

dearieme writes:


Jared writes:


Alex Tabarrok writes:


GregN writes:

Bangalore? Mexico City?

rtc writes:


Berlin is actually located at the Spree. granted not a big river. but navigable for ca. 180 km.

Michael writes:

Madrid? The city dates to 1656, and isn't a port by any means. The Manzanares River is close, but isn't navigable.

Madrid became important by basically the whim of Holy Roman Emperor/Spanish King Charles V who made it his capital in 1540 because he thought the brisk air, Madrid sits on a plateau 2100 feet above sea level, would do his health some good, he suffered bouts of gout. Before that Madrid was a mere village.

Milan a similiar story as being nearer to the Alpine passes than Rome was made capital of the Western Roman Empire by Diocletian

Michael writes:

Berlin originally was a trading city as evidence by being a member of the medieval Hanseatic League until 1451 when it became the capital of the Elector of Brandenburg.

Dave writes:

Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Vatican City, Andorra, Czech Republic, ...

Ned writes:

Megan's story sounds nice, but it is full of holes:

- what about mini-states, all of them prosperous (San Marino, Lichtenstein, Andorra, Luxembourg).

- What, Check Republic is not prosperous enough? Slovakia and Hungary? Bavaria used to be a kingdom, and a prosperous one at that, and it was landlocked.

- I'm too lazy to calculate what % of landlocked countries are prosperous, and what % of all countries are prosperous. I doubt that there is a big difference (there aren't that many landlocked countries anyway).

Re. Sowell: again, nice story, but it is easy to invent similarly (or more) persuasive reasons for why Europe, for example, should be undeveloped (many small countries with mutually incomprehensible languages, incessant wars, lack of social critical mass (compared to China, for example), religious differences etc., etc.).

arthas writes:

Apart from navigation and rich neighbours, countries in mountain ranges are poor (except switzerland). You can look at number of mountainous countries ( Bolivia, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan etc) which are in (high) mountains with difficult access ( road or navigation) and which are poor.

Aaron writes:

The Danube is very large and navigable. Thus cities like Budapest aren't really so landlocked.

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