Geography and economics

Date posted: October 25, 2012

A phrase was coined a few years ago by a famous writer who said the world is flat. By this, he meant technology and modern communications and transportation have almost eliminated distance and made the entire world accessible. But does this mean geography is obsolete? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“Well …, some would say, yes, based on that comment that the world is flat. But since that book was written …, there’ve been a lot of replies. And we have a new book out that I read that argues that geography is still important.

“And let me give you a couple examples that the author used in that book: He says, for example, if you look at countries that have very rich soil, often those countries are linked to democratic advances — that is, countries that have democracy. And the reason is, he said, that countries with rich soil can support many small independent farms. And if you have many small independent farms, you have many people with a stake in the economy, and so that will lead more to democratic institutions.

“In contrast, he argues countries with poor soil can only survive if they have very large farms and that those large farms and the economy are then going to be dominated by a few large landowners, which is not necessarily conducive and compatible with democracy.

“Another example he uses are countries that have deep rivers and good harbors have developed world trade, in contrast to those countries that don’t have those characteristics.

“These are just a couple of examples in this book, which is called The Revenge of Geography. But it does say that although technology and communication and modern transportation may have brought us closer together as a world, it still matters where you are. And it still matters in terms of your geographic characteristics.”

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