Dynamics in economic geography 2e druk - Ton van Rietbergen, Sierdjan Koster

1 | What is economic geography?

ever people wanted it to be. This led to large-scale interventions in the physical en vironment, such as massive deforestation, the widespread use of pesticides and the diversion of great rivers − not only in totalitarian countries like the Soviet Union and China − but also in democratic nations. The ecological consequences of these interventions were often disastrous. The late 1960s witnessed renewed interest in economic geography. This was not so much because the natural environment was considered an important factor, but because the realization was dawning that imbalances between regions may well be permanent − not only on a global scale but also within countries. Some regions had a much higher unemployment rate than others, and such imbalances remained. In the agricultural and industrial regions of the Netherlands for example, unemploy ment was particularly high during this period, prompting many people to emigrate to countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The tide would have to be turned by strengthening the local economy. In those days, regional planning poli cies were aimed at ‘bringing work to the people’ and the government offered grants to attract new businesses to the region or for expanding existing businesses. In ad dition, access to these regions was improved by constructing roads and railways. In other words, the regional geography was adjusted to stimulate the economy and boost the level of welfare. Economic geography thus found an application in gov ernment policy. Published in 1998, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations , by historian David Landes, marked the rehabilitation of economic geography within the social sciences in the United States. Landes felt that geography, with its emphasis on the unequal dis

tribution of natural resources and climatic limitations, had wrongly become a forgotten discipline. He gave the example of a commu nity’s struggle against the sea as a possible ba sis for economic welfare. Tropical climates, on the other hand, with their high levels of illness tended to lower productivity and therefore constituted a hindrance to development. Al though they were grateful to Landes for putting geographic factors back on the agenda, many geographers also felt he went too far, as his ide as reminded them too much of the earlier de terminism. Having said this, Landes undoubt edly did much to generate interest in economic geography. While Landes emphasized the importance of ge ography as a variable that could explain differ ences in welfare levels, economic geographers

Figure 1.2 David S. Landes’

bestseller The Wealth and Poverty of Nations


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