Social scientists often promote the value of public provision of infrastructure as a sound, long-term investment in development and prosperity, pushing back against the neoliberal tendency to abandon public goods in favor of private development.
Researchers at the Centre for Economic Policy Research examined the amount of light emitted in territories adjacent to network of roads built millennia ago to service the Roman Empire, using light as a proxy for development and prosperity, comparing the light levels to light emitted by other parts of Europe, both those that were never part of the Roman Empire, and parts that the Empire conquered but did not extend their road network to.
They found that the advantages of a public good -- as opposed to Roman rule or other factors -- persist for thousands of years, with benefits that are literally visible from space, with the naked eye.
In some ways, the emergence of the Roman road network is almost a natural experiment – in light of the military purpose of the roads, the preferred straightness of their construction, and their construction in newly conquered and often undeveloped regions. This type of public good seems to have had a persistent influence on subsequent public good allocations and comparative development. At the same time, the abandonment of the wheel shock in MENA appears to have been powerful enough to cause that degree of persistence to break down. Overall, our analysis suggests that public good provision is a powerful channel through which persistence in comparative development comes about.
On Roman roads and the sources of persistence and non-persistence in development
[Carl-Johan Dalgaard, Nicolai Kaarsen, Ola Olsson and Pablo Selaya/CERP]
(via Naked Capitalism)
Japanese historian Nick Kapur unearthed "Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi" (童絵解万国噺), a wonderfully bizarre illustrated Japanese history of the USA from 1861, filled with fanciful depictions of allegedly great moments in US history, like "George Washington defending his wife 'Carol' from a British official named 'Asura' (same characters as the Buddhist deity)."
Stanford folklorist and science historian Adrienne Mayor has a fascinating-sounding new book out, titled “Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology.” It’s a survey of how ancient Greeks, Romans, Indian, and Chinese myths imagined and grappled with visions of synthetic life, artificial intelligence, and autonomous robots. From Mayor’s interview at Princeton University […]
Tim Wu (previously) is best known for coining the term "Net Neutrality" but the way he got there was through antitrust and competition scholarship: in his latest book, The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, Wu takes a sprightly-yet-maddening tour through the history of competition policy in the USA, which has its […]
Looking to de-clutter your kitchen counter? Start with those multiple, tangled charging cables for your multiple, power-hungry devices. There’s a workhorse solution for all those power needs, and it’s just as just as well suited to travel as home use: The Scout Wireless 5000mAh Charger. Compact and sleek at nine ounces, it doesn’t look like […]
Use a single password for every website, and you’re compromising your security. Use a different one each time, and you’re bound to lose track of them. The solution? RoboForm Everywhere, a catch-all tool that will not only manage the passwords on every site you visit but generate better ones. As a simple password database, it’s […]
Just a reminder: Print isn’t dead. And now that printers are becoming as portable as cell phones, it might be around for quite some time. Enter the MEMOBIRD Mobile Thermal Printer, a mini-printer that is versatile, portable – and most importantly, never needs a refill on ink or toner. Measuring just a few inches around, […]