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

1.2 | The rediscovery of economic geography

and historians generally concentrated on how societies were organized (in terms of their legal system, education and entrepreneurial climate). An apt illustration of this is a description of Switzerland used by the Dutch historian H.L. Wesseling (1994): They are small countries, surrounded by often hostile neighbouring coun tries, without access to the sea and with no natural resources. Much of the land is mountainous and infertile. Roads are hard to construct due to the mountainous terrain. (…) The population is small and consists of several groups, without cultural or linguistic connections. People are so poor that they leave the country or sign up as mercenaries in foreign armies. The pros pects of such a country would appear to be very poor indeed − the develop ing nation par excellence . This was a fairly accurate description of Switzerland around 1800. Today Switzer land is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Its open-door policy, tax system, education, frugality, calm political situation and neutrality are some of the factors thought to have stimulated its economic development. Breaking the vicious circle of poverty is possible, historians argue, but it is a complex process. Jan Luiten van Zanden, Professor of Global Economic History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, reduced this complexity to two factors: the division of power and the relationship between neighbouring regions. With regard to the second factor, Van Zanden compares economic growth to an expanding oil slick: Once a growth nucleus has developed (e.g. the late medieval Italian city states, the cities in 17th-century Holland, or post-World War II Germany and Japan), such a nucleus often pulls surrounding regions along with it. Soon, ‘the neighbours’ do more than simply bob along on the waves of trade and productivity. Often the surrounding areas copy the institutions of an economic centre. As well as a reflection of economic fluctuations, this is a fundamental, structural development. (as cited in Van Es, 2011) In addition to historians, we owe the rediscovery of economic geography to econo mists. In The Competitive Advantage of Nations (1990), bestselling American busi ness strategy expert Michael Porter described the basic geographic factors necessary for a country to be competitive. In the context of the Netherlands, these geographic factors would be the mouths of the main rivers on which the Dutch ‘delta economy’ is based. Boasting Rotterdam harbour and Amsterdam Airport (‘the Gateway to Europe’), the Netherlands has a competitive advantage that can be directly linked to its geography. Porter gave examples of the economic success stories of regions such as the ‘Third Italy’ in northern Italy and Silicon Valley in the United States. Porter argued that nations are well advised to focus on their regional econom ic specializations (clusters) as the driving force behind their economic develop-


Made with FlippingBook - professional solution for displaying marketing and sales documents online