Rising City Inequality

Barkley Rosser pointed to me to an ’05 meta-analysis of tail-power estimates for city distributions:

The estimated [power α] is on average not 1.0. If the regression is properly specified in the Pareto form, the pooled estimate of α is considerably larger than one, close to 1.1. … Point estimates of α are significantly smaller if the estimate is based on population data for metropolitan areas (instead of inner cities), the estimate is based on data for recent years, the estimate is for the US city size distribution, the sample comprises only a small number of observations, and the study reports only a single estimate.

So while this confirms that for US cities recently the tail-power is close to one (as I had cited before), it is higher in the rest of the world, and in the past. See this graph of power vs. year AD:

Inequality in cities has indeed been increasing over the last few centuries. And it may well increase more in the future.

So who bemoans increasing city inequality? Who wants to redistribute success from the 1% of cities, e.g., Tokyo and New York, to the many smaller cities? Few it seems, because while many dislike inequality in wealth or firm size, most seem to like city inequality.

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  • Wonks Anonymous

    People tend to take individuals as fundamental. Although I don’t think everyone liked Ed Glaeser’s recommendation that we let Buffalo NY die and help people move (some folks made similar arguments about New Orleans).

  • Tony

    I disagree that people do not want to ‘redistribute’ city size. Not everyone does for sure but there is a population out there that would like to see medium-sized cities and towns (tens to hundreds of thousands of people) revitalized, seeing them as more ‘human-scale’.

  • genauer

    typical garbage interpretation of noise, nothing more.
    Therefore any discussion of political consequences is less than useless.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com Stephen R Diamond

    The geographical distribution of the population hasn’t been a hot topic lately, but not too long ago you used to hear arguments about whether the world was overpopulated or the population maldistributed. Karl Marx complained about the centralization of the population in huge urban centers causing the “idiocy of rural life.”

  • Michael Wengler

    It is a lot easier for me to move to a bigger or smaller city than it is for me to change my wealth in the upward direction by a few orders of magnitude.

    So if I can easily MOVE to the biggest, smallest, or middlest city, what do I care what the distribution is?

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      People can move to big or small firms too, as customers or employees, but they care more about that.

      • S

        I do not think that the emplyee side is the big deal. Although moving as an employee is not necesarily so easy as the job vacancy of the type that you want must be open and there must not be better candidates.

        The real problem where there are large firms is when they get a monopoly because of the network effect and strangle the market and so customers cannot get what they want because there are no effective competitors to buy from.

        Also I live in the largest city in my nation. I really wish that it would stop growing. Having so many people crammed into it just pushes the real estate prices up ridiculously high. I worry that my kids will not be able to afford to live nearby.

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