South Korea (Europe) fact (?) of the day

by on September 19, 2015 at 2:15 am in Data Source, Economics | Permalink

Busan — the second largest city in South Korea — would also be the second largest city in Western Europe.

That is from the new and interesting paper by Glaeser, Ponzetto, and Zou (pdf), on mega-cities vs. networks.  By the way, I consider Busan to be a lovely and underrated city, think of it as the Vancouver of Korea, and on a clear day you can look across the water and see Japan.

Update: See the comments for some challenges to the #2 claim.

1 Barkley Rosser September 19, 2015 at 2:48 am

Scanning the paper I did not see that claim, although maybe it is in there somewhere. As it is, I just checked and can only find the number 3.6 million for Busan’s population, although maybe that is just for the city and not the metro area. As it is, Moscow, London, Paris, and Istanbul all have metro area populations well in excess of 10 million.

2 Steko September 19, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Moscow and Istanbul are clearly not in ‘Western Europe’ though. Paris has small city limits. In fact in the list at Wikipedia of cities proper by population, only London is ahead of Busan from Western Europe. Making a big deal about metro area vs city proper seems excessively pedantic. The claim is not explicitly about metro area and although city proper is not he preferred measure of city size it’s still a perfectly legitimate one.

3 Barkley Rosser September 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Regarding population within city limits, there are four cities in Europe larger than Busan, in order, Istanbul, Moscow, London, and St. Petersburg, with Berlin about the same size. Paris is indeed smaller, but Paris is one of the four largest in metro area population.

4 Steko September 22, 2015 at 8:17 am

Yes but once again the relevant qualification specified ‘Western Europe’ #notalleurope.

5 Steve Sailer September 19, 2015 at 2:52 am

Is “Busan” the Pusan of Korean War history?

6 MM9U September 19, 2015 at 3:37 am

3.6 million for Busan is for the ‘city’ itself, and not for the surrounding areas, but even with the surrounding urban areas, (Yangsan-si, and Gimhae-si) it would not appear to be over 5 million. Perhaps they are only comparing population within the boundaries in Paris and London?

(Yes, “Busan” is the new spelling for the Pusan of the Korean War.)

7 Steve Sailer September 19, 2015 at 3:58 am

Changing spelling of foreign names just makes people more ignorant.

That reminds me: Instead of inviting in all those Merkel Youth, Ms. Merkel could have done more to get people around to forget the unfortunate events of 1914-45 by insisting that her country be called Deutschland instead of Germany.

8 affenkopf September 19, 2015 at 4:41 am

1941? Jesus, Americans are self-centered,

9 Brian Donohue September 19, 2015 at 8:19 am

1914, but thanks for playing.

10 Clay September 19, 2015 at 8:21 am

1941. Noted as the year a small dust up known as The Great War or World War 1 began, with Germany establishing a prominent role for itself by invading Belgium and France, whilst fending off Russian attacks. But yes, it must be self-centered for a presumed American to so much as mention this date. After all everyone knows 1914 was really nothing more than a setup for America’s 1917 entry into the war.

11 bill reeves September 19, 2015 at 6:08 pm

One could also make the case that the war of 1939 to 40 was merely another European dust up. WWII became a world war only when the USSR, USA and Japan were drawn into the fray. In 1941.

12 ivvenalis September 19, 2015 at 6:24 am

It may have been a conscious decision to dissociate the city from the war. The revised romanization rules suggest “Korea” be spelled with a G, but that wasn’t changed, presumably because they figured that one had good brand recognition. The revised rules seem to favor consistency over phonetic accuracy, anyway.

13 MM9U September 19, 2015 at 6:36 am

“Korea,” “Seoul,” and “kimchi” survived the new romanization, Busan, Daegu, and Gimhae did not. The rules seemed to be written to make it easier for Korean to write words in English, not to make it easier for English speakers to read the words. Somewhat backwards, when you realize that Incheon, the major airport, is a two syllable word.

14 Taeyoung September 21, 2015 at 7:51 pm

“Korea” isn’t the Korean word for Korea. It’s Hangook (in the South) or Joseon (in the North). Korea is derived etymologically from 高麗 (Goryeo in Korean — it’s Kourei in Japanese and Gao-li in Mandarin Chinese, so I suspect the name “Korea” comes to us through Japan), the name of the dynasty before Joseon. So “Korea” wouldn’t be subject to the Romanization rules.

The spelling “Seoul” is consistent with the new Romanization.

15 Ikea bookshelf September 19, 2015 at 10:02 am

It takes a particularly insular kind of American to think that foreign sounds map easily into American pronunciation. You guys murder Ikea, for example. Perhaps a spelling change is in order.

16 Thomas September 19, 2015 at 11:54 am

Go to Hell, stupid.

17 John L. September 19, 2015 at 11:54 am

V “Instead of inviting in all those Merkel Youth, Ms. Merkel could have done more to get people around to forget the unfortunate events of 1914-45 by insisting that her country be called Deutschland instead of Germany.
“While singing “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, Über alles in der Welt”?

18 Slave Stealer September 19, 2015 at 6:32 am

Yes, and it is worth a visit indeed. To commemorate the soldiers who fought and died on the Pusan Perimeter, defending freedom. Nowadays, there are also Russian hookers, and a must-eat seafood market in the port area with gruff Korean ladies and lots of live animals.

19 Barkley Rosser September 19, 2015 at 11:48 pm

Deal with it, Steve. Names of places change, including the officially accepted transliterations of those names from their original alphabets.

Steve, I have serious disagreements with you, but I also recognize that you are a smart guy who knows a lot. But whining about the fact that approved spellings in English of this or that foreign language just makes you look stupid, and I do not think that in the end you want to look stupid to people like me (granted that there are very few rooms you are in that contain anybody who knows more than I do… :-)).

20 Vaniver September 21, 2015 at 9:41 am

The letter is ㅂ, which is pronounced midway between a ‘b’ and a ‘p’. I have no clue why the McCune–Reischauer system used a p for it, since there’s another letter, ㅍ, which *is* pronounced as p.

21 Jeff October 2, 2015 at 8:14 am

Yes. When I was in Korea back in the mid-70s and early 80s, my two favorite Korean meat dishes were pronounced (by Koreans) as pulgogi and garvey. Now the approved spellings in English are bulgogi and kalbi. It’s true enough that the ‘p’ and ‘b’ sounds are very close, especially as pronounced by Koreans, but I don’t know how both the soft ‘g’ and ‘v’ sounds got transliterated to ‘k’ and ‘b’. I’ve never heard a Korean pronounce ‘kalbi’ the way you would read it aloud in English.

Steve is right. It does seem that most of the time the changes we’re expected to follow in how places and other things are named are the result of some form of political correctness rather that attempts at clarity or consistency.

22 BillKim September 19, 2015 at 3:36 am


23 er September 19, 2015 at 3:40 am

south korea fact of the day: there are dedicated koreans that work 60 hours a week making up facts about korea

24 Whiskydrinker September 19, 2015 at 4:25 am

This is absolute rubbish – by any reasonable measure of the urban area it is clearly less than half the size of London or Paris, much smaller than Madrid, Milan, or the Rhine or Randstad conurbations, and at best the same size as Barcelona or Rome. More anecdotally, I’ve been to Busan and liked it, but it hardly feels like a city on the scale of Paris or London.

25 me September 19, 2015 at 9:10 am

Using city limit population is rubbish. By that metric, Jacksonville is bigger than Boston.

26 Whiskydrinker September 19, 2015 at 9:47 am

That’s using the urban area, ie, “Greater” X. Greater Busan has 4.6 million inhabitants, whereas Greater Milan has 5.3 million, Berlin 5.6 million, and so on. If you use city limits Busan does slightly better, simply because it includes more suburbs, but it’s still not in the top four. I don’t mean to be hostile but I would have thought Tyler Cowen would have a good enough grasp of geography and sense of place to not take that fact at face value.

27 me September 19, 2015 at 10:47 am

I was agreeing with you! Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

28 Official +1 September 19, 2015 at 2:33 pm


29 Millian September 19, 2015 at 6:33 am

Aren’t academics supposed to provide sources? That would have helped to check this claim.

30 Jan September 19, 2015 at 7:07 am

I am not trusting the evidence on Korea in a paper by some guys named Glaeser, Ponzetto, and Zou.

31 Julius September 19, 2015 at 8:53 am

May they should have gone.

32 Ronald Brak September 19, 2015 at 8:57 am

I know it sounds bizarre, but apparently it is true – Japan can be seen from Korea. Specifically the Island of Tsushima. Although I think both seeing conditions and eyes would have to be excellent.

33 dearieme September 19, 2015 at 9:54 am

Apparently in good conditions you can see Greenland from Iceland.

34 Artimus September 19, 2015 at 10:26 am

I’ve heard you can see Russia from Sarah Palins backyard.

35 athEIst September 19, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Conditions have not been good since Eric the Red sailed at the beginning of the Little Ice Age

36 Artimus September 19, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Being that the closest distance from Iceland to Greenland is approximately 180 miles that would be impossible due to the curvature of the earth. Just saying…

37 Cliff September 19, 2015 at 9:09 pm


38 Ronald Brak September 19, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Greenland has a high average elevation and Iceland has a peak of over 2,100 meters, but these heights do not appear to be in the right locations to allow Greenland to be spotted from Iceland or vice versa. However, Fata Morgana mirages can occur and create the appearance of land:

39 So Much For Subtlety September 19, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Just don’t tell Koreans you can see Japan from Korea if you are sitting on the Liancourt rocks.

40 Ray Lopez September 19, 2015 at 10:24 am

I visited Busan. They have a white sand beach that they’re proud of, but it pales in comparison to (no pun) Ocean City in NJ/MD, or Virginia Beach in Virginia, or North Carolina beaches, not to mention Florida beaches. Never been to Coney Island, NY, but perhaps it’s superior too. The Eastern Seaboard has a worthy beach culture that only the south Med approaches, and Hawaii, the Caribbean, and a few other places like Rio, etc, may meet or exceed.

41 Ray Lopez September 19, 2015 at 10:25 am

BTW I hate beach culture, but I know good beaches when I see them. And that includes the two-legged variety!

42 Bob September 19, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Busan is a very provincial city, and is not comparable to Vancouver or other major national or cosmopolitan cities. It’s more comparable to a city in the American South.

Busan, and the southern area more generally, are considered to be hickish and provincial by the rest of the country, specifically by Seoul and the north of the country. The people there are more hickish and country folk and even have a distinctive twangy accent like American Southerners do.

43 Mzungu wa China September 19, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Anything but Seoul is considered “hickish” by Seoulites. A lot of Koreans like the Busan twang. Never been to Vancouver so can’t judge the comparison but “provincial” Busan is not. Aside from Seoul it certainly is the most cosmopolitan city in Korea and as it is a port city itself unlike Seoul which has Incheon for that, it does have the multicultural feel that often comes with ports.

44 as September 19, 2015 at 4:28 pm

According to the OECD, Busan would be the 9th largest metropolitan area in Europe. OECD population figures for metropolitan areas are based on a standardised definition that is independent of administrative boundaries and thus comparable across countries. See

45 Barkley Rosser September 20, 2015 at 3:50 am

So, the field gets narrowed by the “western” in there. That rules out Moscow and Istanbul. But, Paris still easily beats B(P)usan for second place in population in “western Europe” after London. Too much of a stretch here, and I still have not been able to track down a source who turns B(P)usan’s population into anything more than 3.6 million, which is certainly less that Paris’s by any count.

46 Sbard September 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

The paper quoted is going by municipal administrative boundaries. The “City of Paris” has a population of 2.25 million by that definition.

47 lassi September 20, 2015 at 2:40 pm

Would it be the second or third largest in America? Population seems to be quite close to LA

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