Great Britain fact of the day

by on March 20, 2017 at 1:27 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

…the [English] census of 1851 for the first time registered a majority as living in urban areas…the rest of the world remained overwhelmingly rural, perhaps one-tenth of humanity living in towns.  The exceptionalism persisted throughout the century.  In 1890, 61.9 percent of the population of England and Wales dwelled in towns with at least 10,000 inhabitants, while the figure for the country second on the list, Belgium, was 34.5 percent, France staying at 25 percent, China at 4.4 percent.; by 1900, the metropolitan region of Manchester — including satellites such as Bolton, Oldham and Stockport — contained the largest concentration of human population on the planet.

That is from the at times quite interesting Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, by Andreas Malm.  It is most interesting on steam power and the history of energy, not the treatment of current environmental debates.

1 Unanimous March 20, 2017 at 2:35 am

Manchester had more people than London in 1900?

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2 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 2:52 am

Some quick Googling suggests the claim is WAY off.

Here are some population estimates for the metropolitan areas of the world’s largest cities in 1900: https://www.thoughtco.com/largest-cities-throughout-history-4068071

London is tops, and over 4 times as big as Manchester.

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3 Broseph March 20, 2017 at 4:26 am

Seeing as London covers an area greater then 10x that of Manchester today. It’s not inconceivable that the concentration of people was higher. But I can’t be fucked to look up the difference in area in the 1900s.

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4 Alistair March 20, 2017 at 7:11 am

London was definitely bigger than Manchester in 1900.

But Tyler is sneaking in a caveat “metropolitan region ” to include in Manchester’s 1900 total most of the NW industrial hinterland and great industrial basin of South Yorkshire.

This is not entirely specious; 1900 London does to an extent “stand alone” as an industrial/financial megapolis in the green fields of the south with no industrial competitors closer than Portsmouth, whereas Manchester was the nexus of a large industrial hinterland. But few British people would phrase it that way.

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5 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 7:17 am

The link I gave above is based on metropolitan area. The numbers are London – 6.48 million; Manchester – 1.435 million.

I don’t see how even the most creative boundary drawing could make this work.

6 Anonymous March 20, 2017 at 10:06 am

Dudes. It was Andreas, not Tyler, and as Broseph says, “the metropolitan region” is a claim based on a personal judgement. You can’t reproduce without the data *and* the boundary.

This is a huge distraction on the meat, which is the value of cities, and of course is set against modern anti-urban sentiment on the right.

7 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Update: I went so far as to look at some 1851 census data, and it doesn’t seem to match the previous source I found. It seems quite plausible from that data that Manchester was the largest metropolitan region in Britain at that time. Or at least, the difference is in the realm that different definitions could lead to different answers.

8 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 7:12 am

The outlying areas mentioned (Bolton, Oldham, Stockport) are quite far out of Manchester. It wouldn’t be possible to define a sensible boundary that encompassed these three cities and was also small enough in comparison to London to make this work–at least in terms of straight population density. Maybe they are using some goofy metric.

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9 Axa March 20, 2017 at 6:22 am

I wouldn’t disqualify that fast the stat. Read again “largest concentration of human population on the planet”.

The keyword here is concentration. In liquid solutions concentration is dissolved mass per volume unit. For populations, it suggests number of individuals per land area unit. I’m not familiar with the term population concentration, but we should be thinking about something similar to population density.

Going back to industrial 1900s Manchester, I wouldn’t be surprised if the quoted text is about overcrowded slums.

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10 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 7:20 am

I’m pretty confident Manchester would not compare to London in terms of straight population density, either. It’s possible that they have some other definition of “concentration of people” that isn’t clear from the quote above, though.

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11 Axa March 20, 2017 at 7:29 am

Geographers are special, there are indexes, ratios, etc. You can say what you want if you use the “right” model.

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12 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:32 pm

Probably often it’s because they’re just talking about something other than what you thought should be emphasized.

13 prior_test2 March 20, 2017 at 3:01 am

Almost as if the British Empire’s policy of mercantilism, integration of Ireland as a food supplier, and its vast agricultural holdings in Canada and Australia had the effect one would expect. Which might make a census of the British Empire a bit more relevant in this context – though by 1851, the population of Ireland was about a quarter less compared to 1841.

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14 dearieme March 20, 2017 at 6:15 am

“the British Empire’s policy of mercantilism”: in the 19th century? You should publish that: it’ll win prizes for novelty.

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15 prior_test2 March 20, 2017 at 8:07 am

Great Britain did not fully abandon mercantilism until the 1840s. I’m sure you are familiar with the repeal of the Corn Laws, so no need for any more scholarly work on a very well studied subject, correct?

And odd as this might sound, neither Canada nor Australia were colonized in the 19th Century either.

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16 So Much For Subtlety March 20, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Almost all of Australia was settled after 1800. The only part that was not was Sydney. Brisbane was founded in 1825. So was Tasmania. Western Australia in 1825 or 1827. South Australia in 1836. Victoria was separated from New South Wales in 1851 with the first White people settling in 1803.

Likewise a reasonable amount of settlement in Canada was in the 19th century. The first settlement in British Columbia, also called Victoria (it is as if there is a clue in the name isn’t there?) was in 1843. Next to it is Alberta. Hmmm, I wonder when that was first settled?

(Actually that is a trick question)

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17 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 7:51 am

Food importation is certainly part of the story (by 1900 Britain was importing half its food), but in 1851 it was just starting to take off. A massive increase in British agricultural productivity was a big part of the story, especially in the earlier years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Agricultural_Revolution

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18 prior_test2 March 20, 2017 at 8:31 am

The Ireland part of the story is not trivial – including the fact that Liverpool/Manchester are conveniently located for the import of things like livestock and dairy (cheese/butter) from Ireland.

Of course, there was the famine, but until that point, Ireland had been a fairly productive agricultural part of the U.K. (only a rude American would call Ireland a colony of the British Empire, of course). What the Irish tenants got out of it is another story, of course, often involving the term ‘rack-rent’ –
‘Landlordism Confiscates the Work of Improvers.
But the present system of Land Tenure not merely enables a class to exact from the people of the country a famine price for the use of the land which God made: it also enables them to charge a rent for the use of the improvements on the land which the people themselves made, which are purely the result of their own industry and capital, and which, in fact, on the strictest principles of justice are their own private property. With the knowledge and experience which we have acquired all our lives long of the transactions that are daily taking place between landlords and tenants, the clearest and most convincing proof that can be given of this fact will perhaps be found in the plain and simple statement of it.

The land of Ireland would at this moment still be in its original state of nature had it not been drained, cleared, reclaimed and fertilised by the enormous outlay of labour and capital which has been expended on it by the people of the present and their forefathers in past generations. The landlords contributed nothing, or next to nothing, for its improvement.

Mr. Mill thus writes of the improvement of land in Ireland: “Whenever in any country the proprietors, generally speaking, cease to improve their lands, political economy has nothing to say in defence of landed property as there established.

Landed property in England is very far from completely fulfilling the conditions which render its existence economically justifiable. But if insufficiently realised, even in England, in Ireland those conditions are not complied with at all. With individual exceptions . . . the owners of Irish estates do nothing for the land but drain it of its produce.”‘ http://www.wealthandwant.com/themes/Rack-Rented.html

Another overview is here – http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/ireland/ire-land.htm

It is a complicated subject, but at least some of the agreed upon facts come from various British enquiries/documents detailing just how pitifully poor many Irish were – nonetheless, the food exports continued apace over that entire time span.

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19 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 8:39 am

Some of my ancestors were poor Scots who moved to Ireland and continued to be poor, and then moved on to America after a couple of generations.

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20 M March 20, 2017 at 3:33 am

British Agricultural Revolution and patterns of land ownership?

Bit suspicious of those estimates – where is the Netherlands?

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21 Adrian Ratnapala March 20, 2017 at 11:09 am

Yes, I was scanning down wondering when I would see the Netherlands just spank Britain in this race.

But it might be sensitive to statistics. The Netherlands was (intuitively) ahead of Britain earlier in time. But then, cities and towns of all ranks would have been smaller. So perhaps if the cut-off had been “dwelled in towns with at least 5,000 inhabitants” (instead of 10k), then the post would be talking about the Netherlands of the 1660 rather than Britain of 1890.

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22 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:37 pm

They had been highly trade-oriented for even longer than the British, right? If considering the merchant unions across many neighbouring areas which included degrees of political integration.

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23 Art Deco March 20, 2017 at 4:14 am

Harumpf! I see our host lets little factoids distract him from the fact that this book is another racket to promote the global warming fraud.

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24 Alistair March 20, 2017 at 7:18 am

Yeah, well, like with grant proposals, amazingly; Everything Is Now Explained by Global Warming.

We have an office parlour game where you have to reveal how Global Warming caused any problem at all (points for originality and the shortest number of wildly hypothecated steps).

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25 prior_test2 March 20, 2017 at 8:34 am

So, the problem of safely storing the significant amounts of highly radioactive waste generated during the Cold War from the production of nuclear weapons has something to do with global warming? Pray, do tell.

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26 AnonCow March 20, 2017 at 9:53 am

The problem is certainly being made much worse by global warming. For example, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/05/global-warming-threatens-to-release-nuclear-waste-from-cold-war/

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27 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 1:01 pm

Our inability to solve the radioactive waste problem is what has kept us spewing CO2 into the atmosphere, because it stopped us from switching to nuclear as our primary power source.

Too bad, because we would have been driving cars like this, which not only look awesome but get something like 60,000,000 miles per gallon:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Nucleon

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28 rayward March 20, 2017 at 7:52 am

When Buffalo was at its peak of industrialization in the early 20th century, demographers projected that its population today would exceed 10 million. It’s about 260,000 today, having peaked at about 580,000 in 1950. Buffalo’s advantage was hydroelectric power (the Niagara River); it was called the City of Light because of all the electric lights. Consider Florida today. Please. When I was a child Florida’s population was about 2.8 million. Today, it exceeds 20 million. It’s a good thing many of them are seniors and won’t be around much longer because unless Florida residents grow gills, they’ve got a problem. Complacency? I mean we are talking serious complacency.

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29 Slocum March 20, 2017 at 8:39 am

Are you going to seek your fortune shorting Florida real-estate? You wouldn’t have to wait until anybody actually got wet, just until the of sea level rise became incontrovertible. How many people who profess to be certain of global warming and the inevitable sea-level rise are shorting Florida real-estate? My guess the number is approximately…zero. Also — how many people who are AGW believers and live in Florida (not a small number — it’s a ‘purple’ state) are planning to get out soon before their property values crash? Again, I’d put the number around…zero.

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30 Ricardo March 20, 2017 at 10:04 am

“You wouldn’t have to wait until anybody actually got wet, just until the of sea level rise became incontrovertible.”

Not at all. Look at real estate prices in earthquake-prone or hurricane-prone parts of the country and you see evidence of a high appetite for risk.

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31 Slocum March 20, 2017 at 10:33 am

It’s not irrationality (at least not on the part of property owners). People in coastal zones and flood-prone areas are only able to be able to obtain mortgages due to the availability of subsidized National Flood Insurance. If the federal government stopped offering subsidized flood insurance, property prices in affected areas would drop, and mortgages would likely be unobtainable in some of them. But there’s no national AGW insurance for Florida, and the real-estate business has not been affected.

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32 Ricardo March 20, 2017 at 11:32 am

AGW would manifest itself in coastal areas through… increased flooding. In the meantime, one gets substantial use-value out of one’s beach house plus a likely government bailout after the next storm surge. There is no reason to think one could make a substantial rate of return by shorting Florida real-estate if, say, the IPCC projections for this century are accurate.

33 Slocum March 20, 2017 at 12:01 pm

But weather-driven coastal flooding has been decreasing, not increasing (we’ve had a long stretch of low hurricane activity). And if AGW isn’tgoing to have any effect for a full century, I’m OK with waiting until we get some more decades of actual data.

34 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:42 pm

Not many people have the kind of deep ockets needed for it to seem sensible to try to profit from costs that will be seen very far in the distant future.

The government (the collective taxpayer) is one actor that can do this.

Warren Buffet is among others. And he has sizeable positions which in part capitalize on the relative inability or unwillingness of other insurers to profit from these opportunities.

If you were 20 years of age, would you buy a seaside house in Florida and plan to retire in it?

People are not “rational” in many ways. So observing their lack of rationality is not proof that the things they respond to irrationally do not in fact exist.

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35 Doug March 20, 2017 at 7:56 am

It’s a real shame to think that the industrial revolution probably couldn’t happen today because of land use restrictions. Instead of a huge urban influx, Manchester condo prices would just go through the roof. Regular workers would not be able to afford to move there. Factory growth would stop because of a shortage of labor in the city. The only people who could work in Manchester factories would be kids with trust funds, who’s parents subsidize their rent.

Urban factories would have multiples higher productivity than rural cottage industries, but it would have little aggregate impact on the economy. Most of the country would be stuck at pre-industrial levels. Tom Friedman would write many hand-wringing articles about how York just needs to act more like Manchester.

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36 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Does it make sense to place the pollution where the people are?

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37 JK Brown March 20, 2017 at 7:29 pm

The pollution wasn’t where the people were. The people were where the pollution was, i.e., the people moved and set up house near the factories, within short walking distance. Why? Because the work was better than on the farm.

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38 B.Reynolds March 20, 2017 at 8:03 am

“It is most interesting on steam power and the history of energy, not the treatment of current environmental debates.”

Most anything that is not of current environmental debates is more interesting.

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39 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:47 pm

And that was worth saying? Maybe less uninteresting than you suggest.

What do you think of the evolutionary biology example of white moths becoming dark moths in industrial London? What do you think that meant for lung health and other health problems due to very bad environmental quality.

Environmental quality ca nbe very interesting in terms of what it means in terms of nature things that people like and the quality of life that it affords us. It can also be very profitable for governments to study, in terms of attracting populations who are able to obtain employment which is profitable for their employers without having to expose themselves to various toxins and other threats to safety and health.

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40 Anonymous March 20, 2017 at 10:09 am

I think it is clear this is meant to fit into current urban vs anti-urban discussion. Cross-read with:

https://twitter.com/willwilkinson/status/842846806409183236

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41 Slocum March 20, 2017 at 11:31 am

That’s quite a sleight-of-hand by Wilkinson. The inner cities Trump is bashing are not the same as the surrounding counties/suburbs (which, in most metro area, contain a large and increasing majority of the region’s citizens).

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42 Anonymous March 20, 2017 at 11:41 am

I buy the argument that the populists are generally faulting cities, cherry picking examples. YMMV.

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43 Slocum March 20, 2017 at 12:18 pm

How many American central cities are attracting an increasing, rather than decreasing, share of their region’s population? Of the region’s jobs? How many cities have median incomes increasing faster than those in their surrounding suburbs and exurbs? How many are in better financial condition (with public employee pensions better funded) than their suburbs?

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44 dan1111 March 20, 2017 at 1:04 pm

The argument “our cities are failing because leftists are ruining everything”, whatever one may think of it, is not an inherently anti-urban argument.

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45 Anonymous March 20, 2017 at 11:28 am
46 Turkey Vulture March 20, 2017 at 11:38 am

I like rural areas, so I like urbanization. The more we can consolidate people into small areas, the more empty rural areas left for me to enjoy. Or there would be if we’d stop growing the population.

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47 Anonymous March 20, 2017 at 11:43 am

While I think there is good evidence that cities promote progress, that certainly doesn’t mean everybody has to live in one.

At least consider the benefit of other people living in one.

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48 Jackson Layers March 21, 2017 at 1:14 pm

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