Is Cebu the most typical city in the world?

Yes, Cebu, Philippines.  That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Now consider some non-economic factors. What is the world’s most important and widely spoken language? English. Along with the native Cebuano and Tagalog, English is widely spoken in Cebu, and present on most of the signs. And what about religion? Christianity registers as the most common religion in the world, and the dominant religion in Cebu is — you guessed it — Christianity.  Islam, Hinduism and various native religions are also represented, as well as variants of folk Catholicism and folk Islam, mirroring the syncretic nature of religious belief in so many other countries.

Asia is the world’s most populous continent by far, and the Philippines (of course) is in Asia. Score another point for the typicality of Cebu. Yet there are also Spanish and Spanish colonial influences, and at times I felt like I was in Latin America more than Asia. That broadens the global connections of Cebu.

Also notable is Cebu’s North American heritage, as the Philippines was a de facto U.S. colony from 1898 to 1935. The native culture is still very much its own, but there are more superficial markers of U.S. cultural influence in Cebu, and in the Philippines more generally, than in almost any other emerging economy. There are lots of fast food restaurants, American casual dress is widespread, and basketball is much beloved.

What else? Most of the world’s population now lives in cities, and Cebu is the second largest metropolitan area in the Philippines.

Cebu is also pretty close to global median income.  And here is the penultimate line:

I therefore nominate a 30-year-old Cebu mother as the epicenter of human existence.

Rico Lechon and Cafe Laguna are two places you might consider eating at.


I think whether or not people count more than 5 minutes late as being late constitutes a much more important metric than religion. And Cebu is definitely "typical" in this regard.

Would Magellan disagree?

Also, the best Lechon is from Cebu.

When I visited Cebu in 1992, Nepal had fallen to communism. I recall a settler colony of Mormons that established a battered woman's shelter for African American Negroes. The women wouldn't shake my hand because they were led to believe that Buddhism had been, in-fact, a violent religion, the reason for their trauma, any extension outward would regress into singalong photovision.

I can't tell whether I'm just missing the context necessary to make sense of your comment, or if it is simply nonsensical.

Singalong photovision is the key insight. Either that or hexapodia.

Wow...that brings back memories...

Are you staying with Ray Lopez?

Met any girls half your age? ;)

Unfortunately, he's at an age where girls half his age are no longer girls.

In other words you think it "unfortunate" that he is old enough to legally have sex with women half his age? Not being a pedophile myself, I just don't understand your attempt at humor.

Are you sure you're not a pedophile? Most people would have interpreted the comment as being about Tyler getting old, but you go straight to the pedophilia.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Oh wait, there is.

The whole issue of consent, for one thing.

A comment based on the Jeffrey Epstein saga, one of the most damaging aspects of which being his assertion to a reporter that proscribing older men from having sex with younger women is a "cultural aberration". Of course, that's exactly what it is.

Older men preferring younger women is exactly what mother nature (or god) had in mind. That is why it happens because it is a biological imperative. The fact that younger women also choose this and/or are willing to accept something of value for it also supports my point.

I think you'll find that what mother nature wants is for men to boff as much as possible. Preferably with fertile females, but sperm is cheap so it's the lots of boffing with whoever is available that's important. Fertile in this context means whichever woman is most likely to produce children that will survive to reproductive age. This is usually the most dominant and/or fattest female available, who is almost never going to be the youngest sexually mature female. Passing over a 90% chance of copulating with a 40 year old woman of proven fertility for a 50% chance of copulating with a 20 year old woman probably means you're a pervert as far as nature is concerned.

Your desire for young women is a cultural bias instilled in you by your female relative's desire to have young inexperienced females enter the group that they can dominate in the pecking order.

Your reasoning is unsound. Women's fertility starts dropping dramatically after around age 35 or so. A 40 year old woman of "proven fertility" is like a 40 year old athlete with a past history of athletic achievement: the fertility and the athletic ability are fading fast.

Mathematically, a man would always choose a 50% chance of copulating with a 20 year old woman over a 90% chance with a 40 year old, because the 20 year old is far more likely to become pregnant.

Of course in the modern world, choosing a sexual partner on the basis of optimizing reproduction makes about as much sense as choosing what's for dinner on the basis of maximizing caloric intake. Yet we often do both. We don't live in caveman times but we still have caveman urges.

By proven fertility I was thinking she has continued to regularly bear children with no large increase in birth spacing. But I freely admit I have no idea what that would make her actual odds of conceiving. If it is say double that of the average 40 year old then she would have about 30-40% the chance of conceiving as a 20 year old. So I'd have to redefine a pervert as someone who skips coitus with a fertile 40 year old for a 30-40% or lower chance of coitus with a 20 year old -- if we are only considering the odds of pregnancy. But what matters are the odds of having a child that reaches reproductive age and the fertile 40 year old is likely to have better odds than the 20 year old. But trying to put numbers to this would only be guesswork on my part, so I won't try to quantify it.

Don't forget that the 20 year old has many more childbearing years ahead of her, while the 40 year old does not. So if it's a marriage rather than a one-night stand, the total long-term reproductive payoff will be far, far greater with the 20 year old.

With the usual caveat that we are treating this as a purely mathematical problem without regard to whether the 20 year old really wants to be a childbearing factory for some geezer.

Sorry, but regarding women as autonomous beings with wants and desires of their own is strictly against the rules when males decide what "nature" wants.

" Yet there are also Spanish and Spanish colonial influences, and at times I felt like I was in Latin America more than Asia. "

What would the country be like if they were colonized instead by the English? Being like Latin America when your neighbors are Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and China isn't exactly a compliment.

Right, but Tyler's saying that Cebu is typical, not that it's exemplary.

Those Asian economic powerhouses are exemplary (economically that is, I'm not saying that it'd be a good idea to emulate China's government or even Singapore's for that matter). But not typical.

The Philippines should really be considered an American colony rather than a Spanish one. America held it for about as long as Japan held Taiwan and Korea and people generally consider those former Japanese colonies even though they were dominated by China before that.

Historically I think Taiwan is better described as the place some Chinese escaped from China rather than it being dominated by China. It wasn't until the Qing dynasty that the island even became part of China proper. They only ruled it for a little over 200 years. Then a local king and Japan. Then the republican government, which fell to the communist revolution on the mainland but not on Taiwan.

My Taiwanese acquaintances are insistent that they are not Chinese.

My understanding is that all the Han Chinese are immigrants and the "true" Taiwanese likely have more in common with Japanese.

Of course I am always willing to defer to someone that is actually Taiwanese over any (small, very small, amount of) history I've read on the subject

A sample size of one, but they had firsthand experience and claim that others agree: I met someone from Taiwan who says that some (many? most?) Taiwanese hated the Chinese who fled to -- or should I say occupied -- Taiwan and brought the Koumintang regime with them; hated them more than they hated the Japanese colonialists. Not sure if it was because the Japanese were more live-and-let-live, or if they utilized less brutal repression tactics than the KMT did. The Japanese as colonial rulers were not known for either of those behaviors, maybe they behaved better on Taiwan -- or maybe the KMT was especially bad.

Or maybe, as you allude to, there was greater cultural amity between the Taiwanese and the Japanese than between the Taiwanese and the Chinese.

The 2-28 Incident and its aftermath are mostly healed now in a "truth and reconciliation" process, but just as power in the US alternates between Republicans and Democrats, you have the pan-blue and pan-green coalitions with incompatible visions and a degree of polarization.

Thanks, yeah incidents like that that would explain a lot of the enmity of the Taiwanese. The person I talked to had emigrated from Taiwan long ago (or maybe it was her parents who emigrated), I'm guessing before the truth and reconciliation process had occurred and the wounds were probably still raw.

Thanks also for the links to those pan-blue and pan-green coalitions, those give basic fundamental insights into Taiwanese politics that I did not appreciate i.e. how there's a mixture of forces at work there including how the desired degree of closeness to China can vary depending on ... probably a number of things but including KMT vs non-KMT identity. I naively would've thought that the people who were in the KMT camp would be more virulently anti-China due to anti-communism, but it seems that their cultural identity still ties them to China, whereas other Taiwanese don't feel that pull as strongly.

TC overlooks numerous key facts in the "pro" column. Cebu is in the Northern Hemisphere. Is on planet Earth. Is in the Sol star system. Is in the Milky Way galaxy. Is in the Local Group. Is in the Virgo Supercluster. Is in the Laniakea Supercluster and is in the Observable Universe. What could be more typical. Oh, and there's more! Its citizens are Homo Sapiens Sapiens. It's citizens are both male and female biologically and are present at near 50:50. It is located within 500 miles of an ocean. It's atmosphere is composed of 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. It's days and nights are a combined 24 hrs long. It recognizes 365 days comprise 3 of every four years. It uses a 24 hr clock. They use eyesight as a principle sense for travel. Most supply their energy by oral ingestion. Most eliminate waste by urination, defecation, sweat, and exhalation. Oh, and DNA! The citizens there share 99+% of their dna with the global human population. Not to mention that they use DNA for genetic transmission. Oh, and most reproduction is via copulation between a male and a female. Just sooo typical! OTOH, there are roughly 600 cities that are larger and 1200 cities that are smaller (depending on how you define "city"). Not so typical, after all.

This is the right comment. +1
Located within 500 miles of an ocean would actually be a greater test of typicality than most of the things in the article.

Or the other way to approach this is - 'I'm looking for an Asian Christian-majority middle income non largest city'. Bingo, Cebu. On the other hand, if you want 'Asian English-speaking-majority middle income non-largest city', you get nothing.

I think if you want 'Asian English-speaking-majority middle income non-largest city' you get Birmingham, England.

Boring geologist warning =)

Look for a bathymetry map of South East Asia. There's continuous landmass from Thailand to the Philippines. The sea between Thailand and Borneo is less than 50 m deep. During the last Pleistocene glaciation you could practically walk from Vietnam to Malaysia and eyesight the Philippines from the Borneo island shore.

'There's continuous landmass from Thailand to the Philippines.'

And yet oddly, neither Confucian nor Hindu traditions seems to play any particular role in the history of Philippines.

The Philippines are about as Asian as Afghanistan - it is simply a matter of definition on the part of the observer.

Cowen: "Also notable is Cebu’s North American heritage, as the Philippines was a de facto U.S. colony from 1898 to 1935". Yes, it's true, we liberated the Philippines from the Spanish only to make the Philippines our colony. It wasn't easy, as the Philippine American War produced nearly 1 million military and civilian casualties according to some estimates, a brutal war with atrocities committed by both sides. The Filipinos, grateful for their liberation from Spain, didn't want to be America's colony either. Although the war began in 1899 and officially ended in 1902, Filipinos continued to battle their American colonizers for several more years. It's a war not taught in America's schools, America's schools preferring the war of liberation, the Spanish-American War, with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders defeating the Spanish in Cuba while the American Navy drove the Spanish from the Philippines and was rewarded for the effort in the 1898 Treaty of Paris which ceded ownership of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to America in return for a $20 million payment to Spain for "infrastructure" owned by Spain. Two consequences of the colonization of the Philippines by America were the disestablishment of the Catholic Church and distribution of Church lands to the Filipinos and the establishment of an American led education system with over 500 American teachers coming to the Philippines. Yes, Cebu's North American heritage.

Cowen: "the epicenter of human existence" - oh God, another abuser of epicentre/epicenter.

rayward: "we liberated the Philippines from the Spanish" - hardly. The locals had largely done that for themselves. This is worth a look:

dearieme, is irony dead?

Mr Jeremy Corbyn assured us all that British Jews don't get irony. So, yes, it's probably defunct, gone to join the choir immortal, pushing up daisies ...

But what do the predominance of malls in Manila tell us about the modern economy?

That the traffic sucks so bad there it is better to build little mini cities where all the features of the larger version are easily accessible?

Though it is very true that the metro area, as seems true pretty much everywhere in the Philippines (and Asia generally from the little I've seen) small entrepreneurs and small shops seem to be ubiquitous.

I've often wondered if that aspect adds to average income or detracts from it -- a case of over division of labor (or perhaps under?) given the extent of the market?

Lack of decent public plazas or parks combined with hot and humid weather make malls the de facto hangout spot for middle class Filipinos. The nicer malls have good restaurants, plenty of cafes, cinemas and one-stop shopping including hardware stores, pharmacies, bank branches, and supermarkets. Some even have bowling allies and ice skating rinks. They basically offer lots of ways to kill time in air-conditioned comfort.

If you were to ask someone to name a big city in Asia that had:

1) A large population of people who can speak intermediate to conversational English
2) Iberian heritage
3) Widespread practice of Christianity

I think cities in the Philippines are the only game in town. The biggest towns in Goa are close but don't qualify as big cities. Macau also isn't that big and average English ability is poor as it becomes steadily more Chinese in character.

On the other hand, why Cebu and not Manila? And it is still worth noting that the median person alive today still cannot speak much if any English. We get a different perspective of what typical is if we just look at the biggest metropolitan areas in the world: Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City, New York, Mumbai, Jakarta, São Paulo, Delhi, Osaka, Shanghai, Metro Manila, Hong Kong.

In this sample, we have significant numbers of monolingual non-English speakers, all the world's major religions but, yes, mostly Asians.

Only an economist would think "penultimate" is a good replacement for "average" or "mean"!

Perhaps Cebu rather than Manila (the city or the metro area?) based on the income stat? I suspect Manila's median income is not close to the global - lots of poverty in that area (but perhaps improving if Duarte was successful in push the riff-raff back into the provinces)

Good article Tyler.

If Cebu is the most typical city in the world, and if "average is over," then what is this saying about Cebu?

I also recently returned from the Philippines and posted some comments on the economy, here:

And they have Islamic terrorists too.

Did someone say "Cebu"?

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