Arnold Kling  

Producer and Consumer Cities

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Maarten Bosker, Eltjo Buringh, and Jan Luiten van Zanden write,


The sociologist Max Weber introduced a distinction between ‘consumer cities’ and ‘producer cities’...

The classical consumer city is a centre of government and military protection or occupation, which supplies services – administration, protection – in return for taxes, land rent and non-market transactions. Such cities are intimately linked to the state in which they are embedded. The flowering of the state and the expansion of its territory and population tend to produce urban growth, in particular that of the capital city.

In Europe cities are instead much closer to being producer cities. The primary basis of the producer city is the production and exchange of goods and commercial services with the city’s hinterland and other cities. The links that such cities have with the state are typically much weaker since the cities have their own economic bases.

They suggest that around the year 1100, Arab cities were consumer cities and European cities were producer cities, so that economic growth ultimately took off in Europe. Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.

What interests me about Weber's distinction between consumer and producer cities is that it relates to my long-standing skepticism about the "market" economies of the Classical period. In my mind, Rome is a consumer city. A characteristic of consumer cities is that they thrive based on predation of the the surrounding area.

The authors write,


Arab cities were part of the ‘predatory’ structure of the state. When the region was unified under the Abbasids, this worked well and the region experienced its ‘Golden Age of Islam’. Efficient institutions regulated exchange, allowing high levels of commercialisation and urbanisation. When state systems disintegrated, so did the urban system and the underlying commercial networks.

In Europe, after a period of disintegration, a different urban system more or less independent of ‘predatory’ states emerged. These managed to claim their own niche in the political economy of the period and developed increasingly effective ways of organising commercial exchange in spite of the fragmented political system.


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The author at Market Urbanism in a related article titled link: Medieval Cities writes:
    I have little expertise in Medieval Cities and have little input, but thought it was interesting: Marginal Revolution - Medieval cities: Europe vs. the Arabic world also, Econlog - Producer and Consumer Cities Cities in the Arab world were on avera... [Tracked on July 3, 2008 3:49 PM]
COMMENTS (5 to date)
Alex J. writes:

Imperial Rome was certainly a consumer city. The govt imported a great deal of grain from Egypt and handed it out for free. Athens under the Delian League also consumed a great deal from its empire. However, before its empire, it probably qualified as a producer city.

Tim writes:

How do you see this meshing with Jane Jacobs' view of cities? Although it's been a while since I read her work, my feeling is that she would see the producer cities as the vibrant growth centers that she advocated. Conversely, those decaying cities would likely have fallen into the consumer cities classification.

Isegoria writes:

"Predation" might be a strong term for providing law and order and being the one who reaps the surplus.

Lord writes:

I would assume much of this is geographic and climate based. Deserts don't produce much while farmland can produce a lot. Gaul was likely much more productive.

parviziyi writes:

Arnold Kling is a wise man, but his long-standing skepticism relating to the Classical era is based on ignorance. It's time for him to quit reading yet more American history, and start reading history from the rest of history. Like for instance how Palmyra grew big and large out in the Syrian desert in the 1st and 2nd centuries (A.D.) without being a government center. Or how come Antioch could have a population of half a million people during the early centuries of the Roman empire -- although Antioch was capital of the Roman province of Syria, and benefitted from Syria's prosperity, it was also contributing significantly to that prosperity through demand creation, and through supply of various goods; it was not "thriving based on predation".

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