Poor countries and even poor people are often blamed for their plight. You’d better do something better. It’s your culture. It’s your bad government. It’s your corruption. Well, sometimes those factors play a role but, often poor countries remain poor in part, because they live in very difficult places on the planet. Physical geography is one of the seven main categories for a good differential diagnosis.
Of economic development. Though it’s one that strangely is often overlooked by economic practitioners. I’m not exactly sure why that is because when in fact you’re standing at 14,000 feet above sea level on the Bolivian altiplano, and wondering. Why this country’s having some problems. It pretty much strikes you in the face looking at those gorgeous mountains surrounding you and, and the snow capped peaks that, while its natural beauty is absolutely superlative. The costs of doing business there could be pretty high. And, indeed, when you look carefully at how geography effects the diffusion of economic growth. You find that it’s very powerful, and that it gives very strong indications of how today’s poor countries should focus their attention, their resources, and their problem solving. Because a lot of it involves overcoming these physical difficulties. Look again at the map we’ve seen now several times of the gross domestic product per person on the planet.
Remember how income per capita. At the very low levels, in tropical Africa for example, and South Asia, in a, a few other parts of the world is concentrated geographically. That’s not an accident. Those places have difficulties in terms of physical geography That have impeded the development of those regions. It meant that as the concentric waves ripples coming out from the epicenter of global growth have spread throughout the world they often haven’t reached these remaining poor places.
This is a map of the world’s large urban areas. And, we can see the cities populations above one million and, and the mega cities above five million shown in this map. And, while you find large cities in most parts of the world. Take a close look and notice the high proportion of cities along the coasts of the continents. And for those that are in the interior of the continents, very often they are along major rivers so that they have At least a water borne trade, the kind that Adam Smith talked about more than 200 years ago, as being the low cost kind of trade, and that is one of the major reasons large cities have developed and grown where they have. Being on the coast. Being near ports, being near major rivers, has been the key to a vibrant economy with a division of labor that promotes productivity, and that allows for economic growth because of access not only for. Exports to world markets at competitive costs.
But also for the ability to buy inputs from the rest of the world. And bring them for processing or for local use. Now if we identify the major ports of the world. And then ask about the proximity of the world’s populations. To those ports we learn some very interesting things. Have a look at this map where each dot each black dot is a major port, and one can then look at the distribution of worlds population within each country. And ask how far is that population from the nearest port? If it’s a landlocked country, there’s an added problem. There is a nearest port, but the nearest port, by definition is in someone elses country, so not only do you have to go over land to reach that seaport, you have to cross a political border as well. And that can be a major hindrance, In the map that you’re looking at countries are shaded according to the average distance of their populations, from the closest port to each part of that country and then averaged over the country.
You can see that the places in Western Europe, in the United Kingdom, in the Arabian peninsula along the Eastern coast, the United Arab Emirates, Oman. These are places almost by definition right at the port, and these are countries that are advantaged, by very low cost transport conditions. England with the, it’s many rivers, with it’s coastal access and London as a city on the Thames able to engage in great international trade, was made possible because it has the advantage of a great river and great access to world trade. But the large continental countries, take Russia, shown in red here, meaning that it’s populations are very far from the closest port, have a big disadvantage. And Russia did not develop a lot of trading cities. There’s St. Petersburg up in the Baltics. But For most of Russia, the cities are land based and face huge over land transport conditions. Have a look at Africa. Almost the entire center of tropical Africa is in red. Not surprising. Most of the countries shown there are landlocked countries. Africa has the largest number of landlocked countries in the world. And it means, for those countries, populations are far from the ports and politically far from the ports as well. Because of the problem of crossing a political boundry even to get to the nearest port. Turns out, that countries abilities to engage in international trade and, thereby, to be part of the wave of global growth Is strongly related to the evidence shown in this picture. The countries that have proximate access to international trade have tended to grow better, faster, and earlier and those that are landlocked and far from the ports have tended, with some important exceptions, to be laggards in the process of economic development. Now the next map shows yet another crucial aspect of physical geography. We know that energy is at the core of the ability to engage in every economic activity, whether it’s farming, industry, services, transport. Home conveniences, energy is vital. And we know indeed that the steam engine really represented the whole take off of the industrial revolution, because for the first time in human history humanity could use coal.
And thereafter fossil fuels more generally; coal, oil, and natural gas. As a major source of the energy for the world economy. That gave it profound impetus to modern economic growth. But the distribution of these fossil fuels that have been so important for the world economy over two centuries, is highly varied. Some parts of the world are blessed with massive deposits. Other places in the world have almost none. In the 19th century, coal was king. We did not yet have in the economy, even the internal combustion engine in the automobile using, oil. And so coal was absolutely central for industry through the steam engine. For transport through rail. And steamships and so forth. But look at the map. Who has coal and who doesn’t have coal? Well, England of course has it. Western Europe has lots of coal. The United States, Russia, Africa. Very little coal, almost none in tropical Africa. That’s no accident of, politics or culture. That’s a matter of deep geology. When the coal was formed through tens of millions of years.
The African continent was in the wrong place with the wrong climate and the wrong conditions to generate coal over the earth’s history. And the result is, that when the steam engine was developed in the late 18th century, Africa had no local coal that it could use. And even when countries tried in Africa, such as Egypt and North Africa. In the middle of the 19th century to develop industry based on imported coal. The costs were just too high of transport to be able to make a go of it. So the deposits of resources, a pure accident of geography and geology can make a huge difference. The next picture I’d like you to look at is another map of the world, huh, this doesn’t look like a map of the world at all, this is not the shape of the planet as we know it, it is the shape of the planet if each country is given the size of its oil reserves. And what you see here of course, right at the center of the map is Saudi Arabia, with it’s massive reserves of petroleum. And you see, other large countries on this world map, which doesn’t look like a world map. Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Venezuela, is major world reserves.
The United States show up there. It’s used up a lot of its historical legacy of reserves. Where’s Africa? It barely shows up on the map. Because only a few places in Africa Nigeria and Angola, and now a few finds in other parts of Africa have given Africa the home based potential. Of petroleum. And one, one measures these reserves relative to the national populations. Of course, the differences are even more vast. Some countries have massive reserves per capita. A country like Kuwait. That leads to huge income per capita. Other countries, like Mali or Niger or Chad, have populations with no oil to speak of or just tiny amounts. And they have suffered from the absence of traditional fossil fuel energies of any kind. They have something up their sleeve now with modern technology, lots of sunshine, so solar power could be a great breakthrough in the age of sustainable development for many countries that were unlucky in the sense of not having the fossil fuels to give them the local energy resources for development. There’s another aspect to geography that makes a huge difference, and that is climate. Not surprising because we all need food and water to survive, to thrive, and climate has a huge effect Not only on the quality of our lives, but on the ability to grow food for our sustenance. You’re looking at a climate map of the world. I find this map quite beautiful. The colors, the variation around the world, it’s quite complicated. Because climate scientists have created many climate classification systems. And the Koppen-Geiger system that’s shown in this map is one that I prefer. The pink and the red areas are the warm tropical areas. They have very distinctive challenges in food production and in disease burden. Where many diseases, such as malaria thrive. The beige areas of the world are the dry ones or where water is scare or in the desert areas basically non-existent and dry regions have the very particular problem. Of growing food and they have particular vulnerabilities of extreme poverty by the difficulties of food production. The light green and the dark green areas are the temperate zones in this climate system. They tend to have winters and summers, and most of them have pretty plentiful water throughout the year, though the particular kind of temperate climate varies. Most of the high income economies of the world traditionally have been in these temperate zones. Food production, dairy production, timber, other parts of agriculture have been favored in the temperate zones. And since modern economic growth began in a temperate zone economy in England. It naturally spread to other tempered zone locations like most of the United States. Like Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and so on. So climate has made a big deal difference and in the next map you’ll see one of the reasons why climate Is so powerful. Not only for food production, but for the location of disease burden. Malaria is a disease that in the rich world, we may read about, but don’t experience firsthand, except on visits to tropical locations. And that is because of the physical environment. Its a disease that is only transmitted when temperatures are above about 65 degrees fahrenheit. In cooler climates you dont get maleria transmission. And in the very warm places that are warm all year round, such as tropical Africa, you can have very high, year round malaria transmission. Well, we know, as we’re reminded of a child being attended for malaria that repeated bouts of malaria not only claim Vast numbers of lives, still hundreds of thousands every year. But, they debilitate societies unless the disease is controlled. Children don’t finish schooling, if they survive, they may have long-term difficulties and liabilities as a result. And so, In this way, we see that climate has very subtle and often very insidious ways of holding back economic development. There’s good news of course disease like malaria and many other tropical disease can be brought under control. But it’s an extra challenge and extra expense, it’s one of those things that needs to be targeted. If we are to succeed insustainable development, geography is not deterministic, it’s not true that a difficult geography prevents development. But, geography conditions economic development and unless we understand it, focus on it. And target the problems that can result, countries can get stuck. If we pay attention to the lessons of geography, however, we can help spring countries now stuck in poverty, from the poverty trap, and enable them too to get on to the path of economic development