Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Burgh Diaspora

pyongyang

North Korea, where few people ever get in—or out. (Photo: fljckr/Flickr)

No Innovation Without Migration

• September 02, 2014 • 5:12 AM

North Korea, where few people ever get in—or out. (Photo: fljckr/Flickr)

People bring their ideas with them when they move from place to place.

I regret taking on the Jane Jacobs urbanist cult. Jacobs advanced a normative geography worthy of admonition. However, my assault on her good name overshadowed a point I was trying to make. I could have made that point without mentioning her. A critique of my post:

On to Russel’s claims concerning growth. If Russel were merely critiquing the application of Jacobs’ observations about walkable places and innovation, then I do not think there would be any serious issue. Even if you are a die-hard Jacobs acolyte, such crude applications and insistence of the physical determinism of certain physical arrangements of buildings and infrastructure and economic development should offend anyone who thinks deeply on cities and economics. But Russel seeks to extend the critique by attacking the notion of Marshallian industrial districts, Porter’s cluster theory, and the general idea of external economies and agglomerative forces, in general. While cute, it is a step too far and exposes some confusion on his part, even within his own arguments.

The crux of my argument doesn’t have anything to do with what Jacobs wrote or the sway she has with contemporary urbanists. Moving on quickly from Jacobs demonstrates a good understanding of what I wrote. The critique rightly hones in on the more controversial thesis taking issue with the popular version of urban economic theory (e.g. Alfred Marshall and Michael Porter). Concerning the geography of innovation, I’m deviating from the Marshallian view.

While more recent, a body of scholarship exists that paints a different picture of innovation mechanics. I referenced some this literature in my last post. I characterize the Marshallian school on innovation geography as density-driven. I characterize the new school on innovation geography as migration-driven.

Like my blogging opponent above, I was trained to see the world in Marshallian terms. The script flipped when I read Borderless Economics by Robert Guest:

A few years ago, I visited a library in North Korea. I asked the librarian which authors were popular. He replied that everyone loved the works of the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung and his son, the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il. Sure, I said, but what other authors did North Koreans like?

The librarian fell silent. He could not name a single one.

Of the 70-odd countries I’ve reported from, North Korea is perhaps the most illuminating. The world’s last Stalinist dictatorship is hermetically sealed from the outside world. Hardly anyone is allowed out, and hardly anyone is allowed in (it wasn’t easy getting a visa.)

Because North Korea shuts out people, it shuts out ideas. That’s one big reason why it is a starving backwater. Its more open cousin, South Korea, which welcomes foreigners and sends hordes of students and businesspeople abroad each year, is 17 times richer.

South Koreans worry whether their children will make it to the right university; North Koreans worry whether their children will make it to the age of five.

The central message of my book, Borderless Economics, is that when people move around, they spread new ideas, mostly for the better.

North Korea could command all its citizens to live in one super-dense city (Marshallian, or density-driven). Its capacity for innovation will still pale by comparison with neighboring South Korea (migration-driven innovation). This natural experiment contrasts two academic theories of innovation geography. Without it, we have large and dense cities attracting the lion’s share of international (and domestic) migrants. Teasing out the two will be the subject of my next few posts.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


November 19 • 12:08 PM

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it’s not in the rainbow and sing-along way you’d hope for. We just don’t trust outsiders’ judgments.


November 19 • 12:00 PM

As the Russian Hercules, Vladimir Putin Tames the Cretan Bull

We can better understand Russia’s president, including his foreign policy in Crimea, by looking at how he uses art, opera, and holiday pageantry to assert his connection to the Tsars.


November 19 • 10:00 AM

A Murder Remembered

In her new book, Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, Alexis Coe takes a humanistic look at a forgotten 1892 crime.


November 19 • 8:00 AM

The End to Race-Based Lockdowns in California Prisons

The legacy of “tough on crime” legislation has historically allowed correctional authorities to conceal and pursue politics that would be illegal anywhere else. Could that finally be changing?



November 19 • 6:00 AM

Like a Broken Record

From beer milers to long-distance crawlers, the unending appeal of being No. 1.


November 19 • 4:00 AM

High School Music Groups Grapple With Gender Gap

New research finds consistently higher numbers of girls compared to boys in high school bands, orchestras, and choirs.


November 18 • 4:00 PM

I Nearly Lost My Freedom Because I Couldn’t Pee in a Cup

After 21 years in federal prison for a first-time, non-violent drug offense, I’m now living in a halfway house. I can go out to work and visit my wife, but I’m sometimes reminded how vulnerable my new life is.


November 18 • 2:00 PM

Chesapeake Energy Faces Subpoena on Royalty Payment Practices

The Justice Department’s inquiry comes after an investigation and years of complaints from landowners who say they have been underpaid for leasing land to the energy giant for drilling.


November 18 • 12:02 PM

Is McDonald’s Really Becoming More Transparent?

In an increasingly ratings-based and knowledge-rich economy, the company could suffer if consumers don’t believe its new campaign is built on honesty.



November 18 • 11:00 AM

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.


November 18 • 10:00 AM

The Unscientific Science of Jury Selection

The techniques of jury consultants are unreliable, and often incentivize the use of lazy stereotypes.


Follow us


Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

To Find Suspicious Travelers, Try Talking to Them

Brief, directed conversations are more effective at identifying liars than fancy behavioral analysis, experiment suggests.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.