Mellinger, Sachs, Gallup: Climate, Coastal Proximity and Development (Oxford Handbook on Economic Geography, 2000)


Authors use GIS to prove some basic findings: North America and Western Europe tend to be located in temperate zones, and temperate zones are associated with higher levels of economic growth.
· Economic growth ignores or underplays the role of physical geography, but this is wrong because physical geography (climate, access to sea, etc.) plays an important role in economic development and can help account for cross-country differences in the level and growth of GDP per capita.
· GIS data finds that GDP densities in temperate ecozones proximate to the sea are on average 18 times higher than in non-proximate non-temperate areas – this paper is going to speculate why these strong patterns exist and persist.
· Even the head honcho of economics, Adam Smith, said geography is important. People just focus on his stuff on market institutions and not on his geographical observations. For example. Smith asserted that coastal regions, by virtue of their ability to engage in sea-based trade, enjoy a wider scope of the market than interior regions
· New Economic Geography: instead of emphasizing the role of geographical differences across economies, the new geography argues that spatial differences in economic performance may arise even when the economies are initially similar in structure. Authors argue that while many important differences between economies have fundamental geographical source – climate, coastal access, social quality – the new geography suggests that many differences are accidents of history
· Authors are not suggesting any kind of geographical determinism, or that there is any link between climate and race, work effort or culture
· Authors hypothesize that geography has direct links to the economy as well as indirect links through effects on the pace and diffusion of new technologies.
Breakdown of Findings
· Temperate zone contains almost all of the world’s powerhouse economies and a significant proportion of global production (USA coasts, Western Europe, East Asia)
· Tropical regions are nearly uniformly poor, while temperate regions have a wide income range with a small proportion (7%) of the temperate-zone populations at income levels below $2K, compared with 42 percent of the tropical zone population
· Climate and coastal proximity are two key geographical gradients of economic development.
· Temperate ecozones and regions within 100 km of sea-navigable waterways are home to more than 50 percent of the world’s economic output but encompass only 8 percent of the world’s inhabited landmass.
· The near ecozones contain on a average ten times the GDP densities of the far ecozones
· Comparing the economic density of the near temperate ecozones with the far non-temperate ecozones, the GDP densities are on average 18 times greater
Review of Hypotheses and Conclusion
· The intrinsic characteristics of the tropics and interior regions are indeed highly detrimental to long-term economic development
o Tropical climates are burdened by much higher levels of disease, less production in food production
o Interior regions suffer from much higher transport costs than coastal regions
o So basically, Sub-Saharan Africa is really out of luck with 78 percent of the population living in far and non-temperate regions
· A small initial advantage in the temperate zone could multiply as a result of a much larger induced innovative activity in the temperate zones
o Therefore the main policy implication from this hypothesis would be to re-direct scientific and technological efforts towards tropical ecozone problems
· Technological disadvantages of the topics, or of interior regions, is a thing of the past
o Not true – still seems to be the case that innovative efforts in public health are still overwhelmingly directed at temperate-zone diseases and that the resulting technological innovations do not always cross the ecological divide
· Therefore it is important to understand the continuing linkages between ecological zone, disease, agricultural productivity, nutrition and economic development