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Posts Tagged ‘geography

“Almost everybody today believes that nothing in economic history has ever moved as fast as, or had a greater impact than, the Information Revolution. But the Industrial Revolution moved at least as fast in the same time span, and had probably an equal impact if not a greater one.”*…

Actors pretend to be in the Industrial Revolution as part of the opening ceremony for the London Olympics in 2012

Dylan Matthews talks with Jared Rubin and Mark Koyama, the authors of an ambitious new economic history…

You can crudely tell the story of our species in three stages. In the first, which lasted for the vast majority of our time on Earth, from the emergence of Homo sapiens over 300,000 years ago to about 12,000 years ago, humans lived largely nomadic lifestyles, subsisting through hunting and foraging for food. In the second, lasting from about 10,000 BC to around 1750 AD, humans adopted agriculture, allowing for a more secure supply of food and leading to the establishment of towns, cities, even empires.

The third period, in which we all live, is characterized by an unprecedented phenomenon: sustained economic growth. Quality of life went from improving very gradually if at all for the vast majority of human history to improving very, very quickly. In the United Kingdom, whose Industrial Revolution kicked off this transformation, GDP per capita grew about 40 percent between 1700 and 1800. It more than doubled between 1800 and 1900. And between 1900 and 2000, it grew more than fourfold.

What today we’d characterize as extreme poverty was until a few centuries ago the condition of almost every human on Earth. In 1820, some 94 percent of humans lived on less than $2 a day. Over the next two centuries, extreme poverty fell dramatically; in 2018, the World Bank estimated that 8.6 percent of people lived on less than $1.90 a day. And the gains were not solely economic. Before 1800, average lifespans didn’t exceed 40 years anywhere in the world. Today, the average human life expectancy is more like 73. Deaths in childhood have plunged, and adult heights have surged as malnutrition decreased.

The big question is what drove this transformation. Historians, economists, and anthropologists have proposed a long list of explanations for why human life suddenly changed starting in 18th-century England, from geographic effects to forms of government to intellectual property rules to fluctuations in average wages.

For a long time, there was no one book that could explain, compare, and evaluate these theories for non-experts. That’s changed: How the World Became Rich, by Chapman University’s Jared Rubin and George Mason University’s Mark Koyama, provides a comprehensive look at what, exactly, changed when sustained economic growth began, what factors help explain its beginning, and which theories do the best job of making sense of the new stage of life that humans have been experiencing for a couple brief centuries…

Two economic historians explain what made the Industrial Revolution, and modern life, possible: “About 200 years ago, the world started getting rich. Why?,” from @dylanmatt @jaredcrubin @MarkKoyama in @voxdotcom.

* Peter Drucker

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As we contemplate change and its causes, we might spare a thought for Charles Francis Jenkins; he died on this date in 1934. An engineer and inventor, he is rightly remembered for his contributions to film and television: he invented a film projector and sold the rights to Thomas Edison, who marketed it as the Vitascope, the projector that Edison used in paid, public screenings in vaudeville theaters; and he opened the first television broadcasting station in the U.S. (W3XK in Washington, D.C.).

But Jenkins also pioneered in other areas. He was the first to move an automobile engine from under the seat to the front of the car; he invented the automotive self starter (replacing the crank) and an improved altimeter for aviation; and he created the cone-shaped drinking cup.

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“A beautiful object, whether it be a living organism or any whole composed of parts, must not only have an orderly arrangement of parts, but must also be of a certain magnitude”*…

This huge rocking chair (the world’s largest at 56.5 feet/46,200 pounds) can be found in Casey, IL.

Big things in small towns…

Casey, Ill., is home to 12 of the world’s largest objects, including a swizzle spoon, wind chime and most impressively, the world’s largest rocking chair. The 23-ton rocker took two onerous years to meticulously construct and included fastidious wood carving and diligent staining. The seat was certified as the world’s largest rocking chair back in 2015 after 10 sturdy individuals proved that the chair could actually rock back and forth. Looming at a monumental 56 feet high, Grandma would have to climb the world’s tallest ladder if she wanted to knit in this chair, proving that the town’s motto “Big Things Small Town” is an apropos sentiment…

One one several stops on a tour of massive novelties in small communities across the U.S.: “The Weird World of Gigantic Roadside Attractions,” from @FiftyGrandeMag.

See also: “The World’s Largest Ball Of Twine is a preserved in a gazebo in Darwin, Minnesota,” from @BoingBoing.

* Aristotle, Poetics

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As we muse on the monumental, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that the Clock Tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster (the seat of Parliament) in London was completed. It housed, at the time, the largest and most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world. It quickly became known by the nickname of its Great Bell (the largest of five), Big Ben.

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“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”*…

Staying yesterday’s agribusiness theme: George Monbiot on the extraordinary challenges facing the world’s food system…

For the past few years, scientists have been frantically sounding an alarm that governments refuse to hear: the global food system is beginning to look like the global financial system in the run-up to 2008.

While financial collapse would have been devastating to human welfare, food system collapse doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet the evidence that something is going badly wrong has been escalating rapidly. The current surge in food prices looks like the latest sign of systemic instability.

Many people assume that the food crisis was caused by a combination of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine. While these are important factors, they aggravate an underlying problem. For years, it looked as if hunger was heading for extinction. The number of undernourished people fell from 811 million in 2005 to 607 million in 2014. But in 2015, the trend began to turn. Hunger has been rising ever since: to 650 million in 2019, and back to 811 million in 2020. This year is likely to be much worse.

Now brace yourself for the really bad news: this has happened at a time of great abundance. Global food production has been rising steadily for more than half a century, comfortably beating population growth. Last year, the global wheat harvest was bigger than ever. Astoundingly, the number of undernourished people began to rise just as world food prices began to fall. In 2014, when fewer people were hungry than at any time since, the global food price index stood at 115 points. In 2015, it fell to 93, and remained below 100 until 2021.

Only in the past two years has it surged. The rise in food prices is now a major driver of inflation, which reached 9% in the UK last month. [Current estimates are that it will be 9% in the U.S. as well.] Food is becoming unaffordable even to many people in rich nations. The impact in poorer countries is much worse.

So what has been going on?…

Spoiler alert: massive food producers hold too much power – and regulators scarcely understand what is happening. Sound familiar? “The banks collapsed in 2008 – and our food system is about to do the same,” from @GeorgeMonbiot in @guardian. Eminently worth reading in full.

Then iris out and consider how agricultural land is used: “Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture.”

… and consider the balance between agriculture aimed at producing food directly and agriculture aimed at producing feed and fuel: “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare.”

Hélder Câmara

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As we secure sustenance, we might send carefully-observed birthday greetings to Dorothea Lange; she was born on this date in 1885. A photographer and photojournalist, she is best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.

Lange’s iconic 1936 photograph of Florence Owens Thompson, Migrant Mother [source]
Lange in 1936 [source]

“How Africa’s population evolves, and how the continent’s economies develop, will affect everything people near and far assume about their lives today”*…

In these tumultuous times, there’s a lot of competition for one’s attention: Russia and its aggression? China and it’s ever-more-assertive rise? The tensions within Europe? The divisions within the U.S.? Indeed, as Adam Tooze argues, there’s so much going on that there’s a risk we’ll miss the most fundamentally important long-term dynamic of all…

Once you realize it’s scale, there is no global trend as dramatic today as the revolution in Africa’s demography.

Asia’s return to the center of the world economy dominates the headlines. But in the grand sweep of history that is a rebalancing or restoration not a revolution. Until the 18th century, the Pacific and Indian Oceans were the heart of sophisticated economic activity. That balance was grossly distorted in the “centuries of humiliation” by the rise of the West. Now, thanks to Asian economic growth, the centers of economic activity and population are realigning.

The same cannot be said for Africa. Despite optimism in recent years, the relative lack of economic growth in Africa is well-known. Less well-appreciated is the extraordinary historical novelty of its demographic development.

In 1914 according to the best estimates, Africa’s entire population was 124 million and that includes North Africa. Today it is 1.34 billion. Compared to Africa’s roughly elevenfold increase in population, Asia’s population increased by “only” between 3 and 4 times – China’s merely tripled and India’s increased by 4.5 times. Furthermore, whereas Asia’s population is beginning to stabilize – led by that of India and China – Africa’s population will, barring disasters, reach 2.4 billion by 2050 and will go on growing.

Longer term projections are hazardous, but a world with somewhere between 9 and 11 billion total population and close to 4 billion people living in Africa is what current trends would lead one to expect. That means that by 2100 the African share of global population will likely be between 35 and 40 percent. And in 2100 the population of several African countries – Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and South Sudan – is likely still to be growing.

That is something new under the sun. It means that in sheer quantitative terms Africa’s story increasingly drives world history…

Read on for a thoughtful unpacking: “Youth Quake. Why African demography should matter to the world,” from @adam_tooze in his newsletter Chartbook— in part a consideration of Youth Quake, by @EdPaiceARI.

See also: “We need to take a closer look at entrepreneurship in Africa,” from @sham_jaff in @whlwnews.

Howard French (@hofrench)

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As we pay attention, we might send dedicated birthday greetings to Joe Slovo; he was born on this date in 1926. A South African citizen from a Jewish-Lithuanian family, Slovo was a delegate to the multiracial Congress of the People of June 1955 which drew up the Freedom Charter. He was imprisoned for six months in 1960, and emerged as a leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe the following year. He lived in exile from 1963 to 1990, conducting operations against the apartheid régime from the United Kingdom, Angola, Mozambique, and Zambia. In 1990 he returned to South Africa, and took part in the negotiations that ended apartheid. He is probably best known for proposing the “sunset clauses” covering the 5 years following a democratic election, including guarantees and concessions to all sides, and for his fierce non-racialist stance. After the elections of 1994, he became Minister for Housing in Nelson Mandela’s government, a post he held until his death from cancer in 1995.

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“Without geography you’re nowhere”*…

Finding meaning in maps…

You may not know it, but you’ve probably seen the Valeriepieris circle – it’s that circle on a map of the world, alongside the text ‘There are more people living inside this circle than outside of it’. The name ‘Valeriepieris’ is from the Reddit username of the person who posted it and in 2015 the circle was looked at in more detail by Danny Quah of the London School of Economics under the heading ‘The world’s tightest cluster of people‘. But of course it’s not actually a circle because it wasn’t drawn on a globe and it’s also a bit out of date now so I thought I’d look at this topic because I like global population density stuff. I’ll begin by posting a map of what I’m calling ‘The Yuxi Circle’ and then I’ll explain everything else below that – with lots of maps. As in the original circle, I decided to use a radius of 4,000 km, or just under 2,500 miles. Why Yuxi? Well, out of all the cities I looked at (more than 1,500 worldwide), Yuxi had the highest population within 4000km – just over 55% of the world’s population as of 2020…

More– including fascinating comparisons– at “The Yuxi Circle,” from Alasdair Rae (@undertheraedar)

* Jimmy Buffett

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As we ponder population, we might recall that it was on this date in 1995 that the day-time soap opera As The World Turns aired its 10,000th episode. Created by Irna Phillips, it aired for 54 years (from April 2, 1956, to September 17, 2010); its 13,763 hours of cumulative narrative gave it the longest total running time of any television show. Actors including, Marissa Tomei, Meg Ryan, Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, and Emmy Rossum all appeared on the series.

The 1956 cast

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