For research attempting to investigate why economic activities are distributed unevenly across geographic space, new economic geography (NEG) provides a general equilibrium-based and microfounded approach to modeling a spatial economy characterized by a large variety of economic agglomerations. NEG emphasizes how agglomeration (centripetal) and dispersion (centrifugal) forces interact to generate observed spatial configurations and uneven distributions of economic activity. However, numerous economic geographers prefer to refer to the term new economic geographies as vigorous and diversified academic outputs that are inspired by the institutional-cultural turn of economic geography. Accordingly, the term geographical economics has been suggested as an alternative to NEG. Approaches for modeling a spatial economy through the use of a general equilibrium framework have not only rendered existing concepts amenable to empirical scrutiny and policy analysis but also drawn economic geography and location theories from the periphery to the center of mainstream economic theory. Reduced-form empirical studies have attempted to test certain implications of NEG. However, due to NEG’s simplified geographic settings, the developed NEG models cannot be easily applied to observed data. The recent development of quantitative spatial models based on the mechanisms formalized by previous NEG theories has been a breakthrough in building an empirically relevant framework for implementing counterfactual policy exercises. If quantitative spatial models can connect with observed data in an empirically meaningful manner, they can enable the decomposition of key theoretical mechanisms and afford specificity in the evaluation of the general equilibrium effects of policy interventions in particular settings. Several decades since its proposal, NEG has been criticized for its parsimonious assumptions about the economy across space and time. Therefore, existing challenges still require theoretical and quantitative models on new microfoundations pertaining to the interactions between economic agents across geographical space and the relationship between geography and economic development.
Ching-mu Chen and Shin-Kun Peng
Thilo R. Huning and Fabian Wahl
The study of the Holy Roman Empire, a medieval state on the territory of modern-day Germany and Central Europe, has attracted generations of qualitative economic historians and quantitative scholars from various fields. Its bordering position between Roman and Germanic legacies, its Carolingian inheritance, and the numerous small states emerging from 1150 onward, on the one hand, are suspected to have hindered market integration, and on the other, allowed states to compete. This has inspired many research questions around differences and communalities in culture, the origin of the state, the integration of good and financial markets, and technology inventions, such the printing press. While little is still known about the economy of the rural population, cities and their economic conditions have been extensively studied from the angles of economic geography, institutionalism, and for their influence on early human capital accumulation. The literature has stressed that Germany at this time cannot be seen as a closed economy, but only in the context of Europe and the wider world. Global events, such as the Black Death, and European particularities, such as the Catholic Church, never stopped at countries’ borders. As such, the literature provides an understanding for the prelude to radical changes, such as the Lutheran Reformation, religious wars, and the coming of the modern age with its economic innovations.
Pascal Mossay and Pierre M. Picard
New Economic Geography (NEG) provides microeconomic foundations for explaining the spatial concentration of economic activities across regions, cities, and urban areas. The origins of the NEG literature trace back to trade, location, and urbans economics theories. In NEG, agglomeration and dispersion forces explain the existence of spatial agglomerations. A NEG model usually incorporates a combination of such forces. In particular, firm proximity to large markets and the importance of linkages along a supply chain are typical agglomeration forces. Equilibria properties derived from NEG models are very specific to NEG as they involve multiple equilibria and have a very high dependence on changes in parameters. This phenomenon has important implications for the emergence of nations, regions, and cities. In particular, high transport costs imply the dispersion of economic activities, while low transport costs lead to their spatial concentration. The same forces that shape inequalities and disparities between regions also shape the internal structure of cities. Firms concentrate in urban centers to gain greater access to larger demand. The empirical literature has developed several approaches that shed light on spatial agglomeration and estimate the role and impact of transport costs on market access. A key empirical research question is whether observed patterns could be explained by location amenities or agglomeration forces as put forward by NEG. Quasi-experimental methodology is frequently used for such a purpose. NEG theory is supported by empirical evidence, demonstrating the role of market access.
Hites Ahir and Prakash Loungani
On average across countries, house prices have been on an upward trend over the past 50 years, following a 100-year period over which there was no long-term increase. The rising trend in prices reflects a demand boost due to greater availability of housing finance running up against supply constraints, as land has increasingly become a fixed factor for many reasons. The entire 150-year period has been marked by boom and bust cycles around the trend. These also reflect episodes of demand momentum—due to cheap finance or reasonable or unreasonable expectations of higher incomes—meeting a sluggish supply response. Policy options to manage boom–bust cycles, given the significant costs to the economy from house price busts, are discussed.
Many large cities are found at locations with certain geographic and historical advantages, or the first nature advantages. Yet those exogenous locational features may not be the most potent forces governing the spatial pattern and the size variation of cities. In particular, population size, spacing, and industrial composition of cities exhibit simple, persistent, and monotonic relationships that are often approximated by power laws. The extant theories of economic agglomeration explain some aspects of this regularity as a consequence of interactions between endogenous agglomeration and dispersion forces, or the second nature advantages. To obtain results about explicit spatial patterns of cities, a model needs to depart from the most popular two-region and systems-of-cities frameworks in urban and regional economics in which the variation in interregional distance is assumed away in order to secure analytical tractability of the models. This is one of the major reasons that only few formal models have been proposed in this literature. To draw implications about the spatial patterns and sizes of cities from the extant theories, the behavior of the many-region extension of the existing two-region models is discussed in depth. The mechanisms that link the spatial pattern of cities and the diversity in size as well as the diversity in industrial composition among cities are also discussed in detail, thought the relevant theories are much less available. For each aspect of the interdependence among spatial patterns, size distribution and industrial composition of cities, the concrete facts are drawn from Japanese data to guide the discussion.
Pao-Li Chang and Wen-Tai Hsu
This article reviews interrelated power-law phenomena in geography and trade. Given the empirical evidence on the gravity equation in trade flows across countries and regions, its theoretical underpinnings are reviewed. The gravity equation amounts to saying that trade flows follow a power law in distance (or geographic barriers). It is concluded that in the environment with firm heterogeneity, the power law in firm size is the key condition for the gravity equation to arise. A distribution is said to follow a power law if its tail probability follows a power function in the distribution’s right tail. The second part of this article reviews the literature that provides the microfoundation for the power law in firm size and reviews how this power law (in firm size) may be related to the power laws in other distributions (in incomes, firm productivity and city size).
Carlos Garriga and Aaron Hedlund
The global financial crisis of 2007–2009 helped usher in a stronger consensus about the central role that housing plays in shaping economic activity, particularly during large boom and bust episodes. The latest research regards the causes, consequences, and policy implications of housing crises with a broad focus that includes empirical and structural analysis, insights from the 2000s experience in the United States, and perspectives from around the globe. Even with the significant degree of heterogeneity in legal environments, institutions, and economic fundamentals over time and across countries, several common themes emerge. Research indicates that fundamentals such as productivity, income, and demographics play an important role in generating sustained movements in house prices. While these forces can also contribute to boom-bust episodes, periods of large house price swings often reflect an evolving housing premium caused by financial innovation and shifts in expectations, which are in turn amplified by changes to the liquidity of homes. Regarding credit, the latest evidence indicates that expansions in lending to marginal borrowers via the subprime market may not be entirely to blame for the run-up in mortgage debt and prices that preceded the 2007–2009 financial crisis. Instead, the expansion in credit manifested by lower mortgage rates was broad-based and caused borrowers across a wide range of incomes and credit scores to dramatically increase their mortgage debt. To whatever extent changing beliefs about future housing appreciation may have contributed to higher realized house price growth in the 2000s, it appears that neither borrowers nor lenders anticipated the subsequent collapse in house prices. However, expectations about future credit conditions—including the prospect of rising interest rates—may have contributed to the downturn. For macroeconomists and those otherwise interested in the broader economic implications of the housing market, a growing body of evidence combining micro data and structural modeling finds that large swings in house prices can produce large disruptions to consumption, the labor market, and output. Central to this transmission is the composition of household balance sheets—not just the amount of net worth, but also how that net worth is allocated between short term liquid assets, illiquid housing wealth, and long-term defaultable mortgage debt. By shaping the incentive to default, foreclosure laws have a profound ex-ante effect on the supply of credit as well as on the ex-post economic response to large shocks that affect households’ degree of financial distress. On the policy front, research finds mixed results for some of the crisis-related interventions implemented in the U.S. while providing guidance for future measures should another housing bust of similar or greater magnitude reoccur. Lessons are also provided for the development of macroprudential policy aimed at preventing such a future crisis without unduly constraining economic performance in good times.
Charles Ka Yui Leung and Cho Yiu Joe Ng
This article summarizes research on the macroeconomic aspects of the housing market. In terms of the macroeconomic stylized facts, this article demonstrates that with respect to business cycle frequency, there was a general decrease in the association between macroeconomic variables (MV), such as the real GDP and inflation rate, and housing market variables (HMV), such as the housing price and the vacancy rate, following the global financial crisis (GFC). However, there are macro-finance variables, such as different interest rate spreads, that exhibited a strong association with the HMV following the GFC. For the medium-term business cycle frequency, some but not all patterns prevail. These “new stylized facts” suggest that a reconsideration and refinement of existing “macro-housing” theories would be appropriate. This article also provides a review of the corresponding academic literature, which may enhance our understanding of the evolving macro-housing–finance linkage.
The geography of economic activity refers to the distribution of population, production, and consumption of goods and services in geographic space. The geography of growth and development refers to the local growth and decline of economic activity and the overall distribution of these local changes within and across countries. The pattern of growth in space can vary substantially across regions, countries, and industries. Ultimately, these patterns can help explain the role that spatial frictions (like transport and migration costs) can play in the overall development of the world economy. The interaction of agglomeration and congestion forces determines the density of economic activity in particular locations. Agglomeration forces refer to forces that bring together agents and firms by conveying benefits from locating close to each other, or for locating in a particular area. Examples include local technology and institutions, natural resources and local amenities, infrastructure, as well as knowledge spillovers. Congestion forces refer to the disadvantages of locating close to each other. They include traffic, high land prices, as well as crime and other urban dis-amenities. The balance of these forces is mediated by the ability of individuals, firms, good and services, as well as ideas and technology, to move across space: namely, migration, relocation, transport, commuting and communication costs. These spatial frictions together with the varying strength of congestion and agglomeration forces determines the distribution of economic activity. Changes in these forces and frictions—some purposefully made by agents given the economic environment they face and some exogenous—determine the geography of growth and development. The main evolution of the forces that influence the geography of growth and development have been changes in transport technology, the diffusion of general-purpose technologies, and the structural transformation of economies from agriculture, to manufacturing, to service-oriented economies. There are many challenges in modeling and quantifying these forces and their effects. Nevertheless, doing so is essential to evaluate the impact of a variety of phenomena, from climate change to the effects of globalization and advances in information technology.
Urban sprawl in popular sources is vaguely defined and largely misunderstood, having acquired a pejorative meaning. Economists should ask whether particular patterns of urban land use are an outcome of an efficient allocation of resources. Theoretical economic modeling has been used to show that more not less, sprawl often improves economic efficiency. More sprawl can cause a reduction in traffic congestion. Job suburbanization can generally increase sprawl but improves economic efficiency. Limiting sprawl in some cities by direct control of the land use can increase sprawl in other cities, and aggregate sprawl in all cities combined can increase. That urban population growth causes more urban sprawl is verified by empirically implemented general equilibrium models, but—contrary to common belief—the increase in travel times that accompanies such sprawl are very modest. Urban growth boundaries to limit urban sprawl cause large deadweight losses by raising land prices and should be seen to be socially intolerable but often are not. It is good policy to use corrective taxation for negative externalities such as traffic congestion and to implement property tax reforms to reduce or eliminate distortive taxation. Under various circumstances such fiscal measures improve welfare by increasing urban sprawl. The flight of the rich from American central cities, large lot zoning in the suburbs, and the financing of schools by property tax revenues are seen as causes of sprawl. There is also evidence that more heterogeneity among consumers and more unequal income distributions cause more urban sprawl. The connections between agglomeration economies and urban sprawl are less clear. The emerging technology of autonomous vehicles can have major implications for the future of urban spatial structure and is likely to add to sprawl.