Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CITIES AND TOWNS. I. How towns originateCircumstances which determine choice of location or lead to its abandonment. Towns are aggregations of people and of industries, and they are formed under the natural impulsion of certain wants. Their development is in no way arbitrary. Sometimes rulers have entertained the illusion that they had only to pronounce a magniloquent fiat, to make a new city rise and flourish; but experience has rarely failed to convince them that they had presumed too much on their power. Without doubt, a monarch may, by changing the seat of his empire, as did Peter the Great, for example, create a center of population and wealth. The public functionaries of all grades and those who aspire to these positions, being obliged to live in the capital and to expend there their salaries or incomes, necessarily attract around them a population of tradesmen, mechanics and menials; but, unless the new city presents a location favorable for certain branches of production (and in this case the intervention of the government is not necessary in order to found it) there will be no considerable development. Here, however, one exception should be made. If the government continually enlarges its functions, if it centralizes power at the expense of the liberties of the country, and, in consequence, increases the number of persons in its employ, the town where it has established the seat of its power will not fail to grow and to acquire wealth: but it is questionable whether the country will have a reason for self-gratulation, in this case, at the prosperity of its capital. If, on the contrary, the government has only limited powers, if it has but few persons in its employ, its capital, in case no other industry can be advantageously established there, will be forced to occupy a very modest position in comparison with the centers of manufacturing or commercial production. Such is the case with Washington, the capital of the American Union. J. B. Say has clearly shown in his Traité this powerlessness of governments to establish cities and towns and make them prosperous. "It is not sufficient," he says, "to lay out a town and to give it a name, for it to exist in fact, it must be furnished by degrees with industrial talents, with implements, raw materials, and everything necessary to maintain the workmen until their products may be completed and sold; otherwise, instead of founding a town, one has only put up theatrical scenery, which will soon fall, because nothing sustains it. This was the case with Yekaterinoslav, in Taurida, as the emperor Joseph II. foreshadowed, when, after having been invited to lay in due form the second stone of that town, he said to those around: 'I have finished a vast enterprise in one day, with the empress of Russia; she has laid the first stone of a town, and I the last.'


—Nor does moneyed capital suffice to establish a large manufacturing business and the active production necessary to form a town and make it grow: a locality and national institutions which favor that growth are also necessary. There are perhaps some deficiencies connected with the location of the city of Washington, which prevent its becoming a great capital; for its progress has been very slow in comparison with what is common in the United States. While the situation of Palmyra, in former times, rendered it populous and rich, notwithstanding the sandy desert by which it was surrounded, simply because it had become the entrepôt of the commerce of the Orient with Europe. The prosperity of Alexandria and Thebes in Egypt was due to the same cause. The decree of its rulers would not alone have sufficed to make of it a city with a hundred gates and as populous as Herodotus represents it. The key to its importance must be sought in its position between the Red sea and the Nile, between India and Europe. (Treatise on Polit. Econ., by J. B. Say, book ii., chap. 11.)


—Let us now attempt to give a brief outline of the necessities which have determined the establishment of towns and the choice of their location. The necessity of providing a place of security must, more than any other cause, have originally prompted men to create towns. They comprehended that by combining together in fortified places, they would be more secure than while scattered over a vast extent of territory. To this necessity, which was felt by mankind in the earlier ages, were joined the special advantages of manufacturers and commerce. While agricultural production extends, from its nature, over a considerable surface, most of the branches of industrial and commercial production require, on the contrary, a certain concentration. Let any one examine them in the various civilized countries, and he will find they have collected about a few centres. Thus, in France, the silk industry has its principal seats at Lyons and Saint Etienne; the cotton industry at Lille, Rouen and Mulhouse; the wool industry at Rheims, Elbeuf, Sédan, etc.; and the fashions are at Paris. What particular causes have determined the establishment of any industry in any particular locality rather than another, is of itself an interesting subject of investigation. Sometimes it has been the vicinity of the raw material, or of a market, sometimes the special aptitudes of the people, and again a combination of these various circumstances.


—The localization of the industries does not stop here: in the towns where they become established, we see them select certain quarters and certain streets as their centres. This sub-localization by quarters and streets is notably observable in Paris; and one may find some interesting remarks on the subject in the "Investigations (Enquête) in regard to Parisian Industries," undertaken under the auspices of the chamber of commerce.


—"When the industries are destined to provide for daily consumption," we read in the Enquête, "they are located within reach of the consumers; when they contribute their products to commerce, they are situated with especial consideration of the means of production. The industries which supply food are almost all of the former class; those which are devoted to the manufacturer of articles known in trade as Parisian articlesarticles de Paris—are in the second. Among the furniture industries there are also certain ones whose work is offered directly to the consumers, and others which are more particularly devoted to manufacture. Consequently we find upholsterers in all parts of the city, while the manufacture of furniture is situated, on the contrary, almost exclusively in the eighth arrondissement, as the making of bronzes is located in the sixth and seventh. Of 1,915 cabinet makers, doing a business of 27,982,950 francs, 1,093, with 19,679,835 francs, are in the eighth arrondissement. And of 257 markers of chairs, doing a business of 5,061,540 francs, 197, with 3,373,950 francs, are also in the eighth arrondissement. To the same arrondissement belongs also the preparation of pelts and leather. The tanneries and the places for dressing leather are nearly all situated in the quarter of the Gobelins, on the banks of the little river which takes this name, on entering Paris. Chemical products are not manufactured much in the heart of Paris, but those which are made there and which require space, water and air, come from the eighth and twelfth arrondissements. Of this number are starch and facula, and candles of wax, spermaceti and tallow. The manufacture of pottery is also found there. Work in the metals and in the construction of machinery is found especially in the eighth, sixth and fifth arrondissments. As to the manufacture of what are generally known as articles de Paris, it extends through the whole of an important part of the city, on the right bank of the Seine, to the north of the streets of Francs-Bourgeois and Saint Merry, and in the belt comprised between the streets Montorgueil and Poissonnière on the west, and the Place des Voges and Roquette street on the east. It is there that are made articles of gold and silver, fine jewelry as well as imitation; there are manufactured the work boxes, reticules, brushes, toys, artificial flowers, umbrellas and parasols, fans, fancy stationery, combs, portfolios, pocket books and all the multitude of various small articles." (Statisque de l'Industrie à Paris. Introduction, pp. 43, 44.)


—The same fact is observable in civilizations which have little analogy with ours. To cite only one example: a Spanish traveler, Don Rodrigo de Vivéro, who gave, in 1608, an interesting description of Yeddo, the capital of Japan, mentions this distribution of the industries through certain quarters and streets as the most salient feature which had attracted his attention. "All the streets," he says, "have covered galleries, and each one is occupied by persons of the same business. Thus the carpenters have one street, the tailors another, the jewelers another, etc. The tradesmen are distributed in the same manner. Provisions are also sold in places appropriated to each kind. Lastly, the nobles and important personages have a quarter by themselves. This quarter is distinguished *57 by the armorial bearings, sculptured or painted over the doors of the houses." (Memorials of the Empire of Japan in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, edited by Thomas Randall.) With the exception of a few slight differences, is not this description applicable to most of the capitals of Europe? Thus the same economic necessities are felt in the most varied civilizations, and give them a common impress.


—Numerous causes, however, are constantly at work, to change the location of industries, and in consequences, of the centres of population supported by these industries. The ordinary result of every industrial or commercial improvement is to change the place of production. When the route around the cape of Good Hope was discovered, Venice lost much of her importance. Later, the invention of machines for spinning and weaving cotton built up the prosperity of Manchester at the expense of that of Benares and other cities of India, which had previously been the centres of cotton manufactures. In like manner we to-day see steam locomotion give rise to new cities or communicate an impulse to old ones which were remaining stationary. The city of Southampton, for example, acquired in a few years considerable importance, because its port was thought well adapted to be a center to some lines of ocean steamers. Let a new system of navigation appear, and perhaps Southampton will be abandoned for another port whose situation is more in harmony with the particular requirements of the new system. Thus cities and towns experience, to their advantage or detriment, the influence of causes which modify from day to day the conditions of existence and production.


—We said above that governments have only in a feeble measure the power to create new towns, and, above all, to render them prosperous. We might add that neither do they possess to any higher degree the power of destroying existing towns or changing their location. In vain did the victorious barbarians employ fire and sword in the cities they had conquered; in vain did they plow up the ground of these proscribed cities and sow salt thereon: as it was not in their power to destroy the natural advantages which had led the people to center there, in a few years the mischief was repaired and life circulated more freely than ever in the very places that a foolish pride had devoted to eternal solitude. Trammels on the free circulation of men and things have unfortunately been more efficacious than projectiles or incendiary torches, in destroying the centres of population and wealth. Many a flourishing city has been transformed into a veritable necropolis by restrictions depriving it of its commerce or of a market for its products. In the seventeenth century we find a notable instance of this. The Dutch, jealous of the prosperity of Antwerp, succeeded in obtaining the closing of the Scheldt and this barbarous measure, which was continued in force for two centuries, gave a mortal blow to the commerce of Antwerp and to the industries of the Flemings, of which the Antwerp merchants had been the active intermediary agents. More recently, we have seen the port of Bordeaux, formerly one of the most frequented in France, deserted in consequence of the prohibitory system.


—Population and wealth are not alone changed by transference from one town to another; they change from place to place in the same town. New quarters arise within the towns or in their suburbs, while the old are abandoned and fall to decay. These local changes are brought about by causes, manifest or latent, whose action modifies in course of time the necessities or conveniences which had determined the choice of the first location. General advance in security may be considered the most important of these causes.


—Let us dwell a moment on this point.


—The old towns of Europe were, for the most part, built on elevated plateaus or on hills more or less steep; so that their inhabitants had constantly to ascend and descend, which occasioned a considerable waste of force in the daily transportation. Besides, these towns were usually restricted to a narrow enclosure, the dwellings pressed upon one another like the cells in a hive. Why was it that our ancestors dwelt in a manner so devoid of economy, so uncomfortable, and sometimes so unhealthy? To explain this curious fact we must take into account the condition of Europe after the invasion of the barbarians. Insecurity was then universal. The conquerors had built retreats for themselves in the most inaccessible places, and they darted forth from these vulture nests, over the neighboring regions, to pillage or levy contributions. Too weak to resist, the former inhabitants of the country, who were the victims of their depredations, compounded with them, as one compounds with bandits in countries where the government is without power. They secured the protection of the most powerful bands by paying them a regular tribute, and they had their dwellings as near as possible to their protectors. They generally settled around strong castles, so as to be able to take refuge in them in case of danger. The first houses were situated just below the castle, and the others were disposed lower and lower in succession on the slope, like an amphitheatre. As soon as the inhabitants became sufficiently numerous, they surrounded their city with walls and towers to complete their system of defense. Thus were built most of the towns which originated in the middle ages.


—When we consider the necessities of the times, the narrowness of the streets is also explicable. It was due to the fact that the fortifications had been made within as restricted a circle as possible, in order to make the defense more easy and at less cost. When the population increased, they were consequently obliged to build their houses higher and to diminish the width of the streets, in order to keep within their original limits. Sometimes, indeed, they moved the walls back; but it was only as a last resort that they submitted to a measure so costly.


—But by degrees general security increased. The feudal system disappeared, and with it intestine wars ended. Then began a movement which resulted in changing the location of the city population. From the heights to which care for their safety had obliged them to confine themselves, they descended to the plains, where they could dwell more comfortably and at less expense. The faubourgs owe their origin to that increase of security which allowed peaceable men engaged in the industries to live henceforth outside of fortifications. This progress has not yet been realized everywhere. The Calabrian peasants,*58 for example, instead of dwelling in the open country, are obliged to remain in the towns, to be safe from the bandits who infest the country. We select the following fact from the correspondence of Paul-Louis Courier: "In Calabria at present," he says, "there are woods of orange trees, forests of olive, hedges of lemon. All these are on the coast and only near towns. Not one village, not one house in the country: it is uninhabitable, for lack of government and laws. But how do they cultivate it? You will say. The peasant lodges in the city and tills the suburbs; setting out late in the morning, and returning before evening. How could anyone venture to sleep in a house in the country? He would be slain the first night." (Paul-Louis Courier, Correspondence. Letter to M. de Sainte-Croix, dated at Miletus, Sept. 12, 1806.)


—Accelerated, moreover, by another cause, which we shall consider later, this displacement of the town population has become generally more and more general: everywhere we see the inhabitants of the old towns leave the abodes they have dwelt in for ages, to occupy new homes, less expensive, more commodious and more healthful.


—II. Of the proportion between city or town and country populationCauses which determine and modify it. The foundation and choice of location of cities and towns are determined, as we have just seen, by the state of civilization and of the arts of production. The same is true of the proportion between the population and wealth of towns and of rural districts. This proportion is essentially diverse and variable. It differs according to the countries and the time. When production has made little progress, when men are obliged, in consequence, to employ the greater part of the productive forces at their disposal in procuring for themselves the necessities of life, the industries which provide for less urgent wants can not be developed, for lack of consumers. The towns where these industries center because of their nature and their special fitness for them, progress in that case only with extreme slowness. It is then in countries and at times when production, and especially agricultural production, has realized the most progress, that the town population must be, and in fact is, the greatest.


—Let us take for examples two countries whose positions in the scale of production are very unlike, viz., England and Russia. In England, where the town population exceeds by far the rural population, the number of families engaged in agriculture was estimated in 1840 at only 961, 134, while that of families engaged in manufactures, commerce, etc., was 2,453,041. The 961,134, families engaged in agriculture furnished 1,055,982 effective laborers, who produced enough food to sustain the greater part of the English people. In countries where agriculture is less advanced, two or three times as many hands, relatively, are required to give an equivalent product: and the natural result is that the town population can not be so numerous. The backward state of Russian agriculture is certainly the primary cause of the small growth of urban population in Russia. The peculiar organization of the industries there has also had somewhat to do with the result.


—"The manufacture of small articles," says M. Tegoborski, "such as are made in the various trades, is located, in Russia, in the rural districts rather than in the towns: it is carried on by village communities, which take the product of their labor to the fairs: this is why the fairs in Russia are of more importance than in other countries. In other countries the workmen in the towns, for the most part, supply the demands of the rural districts: with us, it is often the reverse, and the shoemakers, joiners, and locksmiths of the villages provide for the wants of the townsmen. * * * Any one may obtain convincing proof of this lack of artisans in Russia, in most of our towns, by examining the statistics of the trades of other countries and taking some of the most common as a basis of comparison. Thus, for example, in Prussia, the trades of shoemakers, glovemakers, joiners, wheelwrights, glaziers, blacksmiths, locksmiths and braziers numbered, in 1843, 322,760 masters and journeymen for a population of 15,471,765, being 21 workmen to 1,000 inhabitants: and when we take the statistics of the towns, this proportion rises in the large towns, to 40 workmen, masters and journeymen, belonging to these various trades, to 1,000 inhabitants of the total town population, which is three, four, or even more times the proportion we find in the towns of Russia." (Etudes sur les forces productives de la Russie.)


—In our day improvements which effect an economic change in production result in a rapid increase of the town population. From what has heretofore been said we may conceive that it would be so. "In France, for example," says M. Alf. Legoyt, "the population increased, from 1836 to 1851, 6.68 per cent. For the entire period, or 0.44 per cent. per annum. In 166 towns having 10,000 souls and over, the increase in the same interval was 24.24 per cent. or 1.616 per cent. a year. In 10 years the increase of the town population was then 16 per cent., while that of the total population was only 6 per cent. (Mouvement de la population de la France pendant l'année 1850, par Alf. Legoyt. Annuaire de l'Economie politique et de la statistique pour 1852.


—The case is similar in England. According to the tables of the last census, the town population of Great Britain (England and Scotland), which was in 1801 only 3,046,371, attained in 1851 the number of 8,410,021. This is an increase of 176 per cent., while the total increase of the population in the same period, was only 98 per cent. And if we observe in what towns the increase has been the most considerable, we find in the first place the great manufacturing towns and the commercial ports. While the population of the county towns increased only 122 per cent., that of the manufacturing ones increased 224 per cent., and that of the seaports, London excepted, 195 per cent. In the towns devoted especially to iron industries, the increase was 289 per cent., and in the centres of cotton manufacture, 282 per cent. Every improvement in the arts of production can only accelerate this increase of the town population. Should we lament it, or rejoice at it? This is a much contested question, but the economists agree in deciding it in favor of the cities. Adam Smith and J. B. Say, notably, prove that the multiplication and the enlargement of towns are desirable, even looking at the matter with reference to the interests of the rural districts. Adam Smith, who examined this subject with his usual penetration, concludes that the rural districts have derived three principal benefits from the development of manufacturing and commercial towns. "1. By affording a great and ready market for the rude produce of the country, they gave encouragement to its cultivation and further improvement. This benefit was not even confined to the countries in which they were situated, but extended to all those with which they had any dealings. 2. The wealth acquired by the inhabitants of cities was frequently employed in purchasing such lands as were to be sold, of which a great part would frequently be uncultivated. Merchants' are commonly ambitious of becoming country gentlemen; and when they do, they are generally the best of all improvers. A merchant is accustomed to employ his money chiefly in profitable projects; whereas a mere country gentleman is accustomed to employ it chiefly in expense, etc. 3, and lastly. Commerce and manufacturers gradually introduced order and good government, and, with them, the liberty and security of individuals, among the inhabitants of the country, who had before lived almost in a continual state of war with their neighbors, and of servile dependency upon their superiors." (Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, book iii., chap. 4. How the commerce of the towns contributed to the improvement of the country.)


—The development of the town population is not then a fact at which we need be troubled. Doubtless temptations are greater and bad examples more numerous in town than in the country; but how much more abundant and within the reach of all are the means of enlightenment and moral improvement! The statistics of criminal justice show, that the town population does not furnish a proportionally greater contingent of criminals than the rural population; and yet it is worthy of note that the police is much more effective in towns than it can be in the rest of the country.


—The following are the statistics in regard to this matter, of the administration of justice in France, from 1826 to 1850: "More than three-fifth of those charged with offenses had a domicile; 612 in 1,000 resided in the rural communes; 388 dwelt in the town communes. In the entire population, the proportionate number of the inhabitants of towns is not perfectly ascertained; but approximate estimates put it at only one-fifth of the total population. The preceding proportions differ according to the nature of the crimes. Of 1,000 charged with offenses against individuals, only 566 were inhabitants of the rural communes; 434 dwelt in towns. If we investigate the various kinds of crimes, we find variations still greater. Among those charged with incendiaries, the highest number, relatively, is found to be from the inhabitants of the rural districts; next come those charged with poisoning, infanticide, false testimony, parricide, and obtaining titles and signatures by compulsion. These are probably the only crimes in which the country people have a larger share than they should have, considering their total number in the whole population. The proportion of country people charged with political crimes, abortion, robbery, forgery, counterfeiting money, violation of the person and criminal outrages upon children, is, on the contrary, very small. (Report of the minister of justice, Annuaire de l'Economie politique et de la statistique pour 1853, p. 108.)


—The same improvements which increase the town population, tend also to improve their dwellings. Under the influence of improved security, we have seen towns descend from the summit of plateaus and the sides of hills, to the plains: we shall see them, according to all appearances, extend over a wider and wider surface, as means of communication become less expensive and more rapid. Great improvements have already been realized in this direction. As well as in the cleanliness and repair of streets, and the internal comfort of dwellings and economy in their management. Who can predict what the future may yet have in store for us?


—III. The administration of cities and townsWhat it is, and what it ought to be Towns have commonly an administration of their own. Sometimes each quarter even has its own. This administration emanates sometimes from a superior authority, in other cases from the inhabitants of the city. This latter mode of choice, which obliges the administrative body to answer for its acts to those under its jurisdiction, is ordinarily the better. As to the course to pursue in order to govern a city well, it does not differ from that which should be pursued in the government of a nation. A city government, like a national one, should exercise only such functions as can not be left to the competition of private citizens. Now these functions are not numerous, and they become less and less so, as progress causes the obstacles to disappear which either prevent or obstruct the action of competition. In fact, whatever the zeal or the devotion of a municipal administration, it is not in the nature of things that the services which are performed by the common organization of a city should be of as much importance as those which are left to private individuals. Doubtless the desire to merit public consideration should incite those who administer the government to do well: but does this motive ever prove as powerful as the interest which stimulates private enterprise? We may prefer the intervention of municipalities to that of the government for the organization of certain branches of service, and the establishment and maintenance of certain regulations of public utility; but it is well, as far as possible, to dispense with both.


—Unfortunately, municipal administrations have the defect of all governments; they like to assume importance, and, with that view, they are constantly enlarging their powers and, in consequence, the amount of their expenses. In our times they are especially possessed with a mania for undertaking public works and buildings. They appear convinced that by demolishing old quarters at the expense of new; by raising edifices upon edifices; by giving, on the least pretext, balls, concerts, and grand displays of fire works, they contribute effectively to the prosperity and greatness of their cities. Need we say that they are going directly away from the end they wish to attain? These public works, these edifices, these sumptuous entertainments, cost dear, and recourse must always be had at last to taxes, to cover the expenses. Then they tax a multitude of things which serve to feed, clothe, shelter and warm the population, among whom exists a class, unfortunately the most numerous, who barely possess the means of providing for the absolute necessities of existence. In a word, the expense of city living is artificially increased. And with what result? Population and manufactures remove as far as possible from a locality where lavish public officers have permanently established high prices: they settle in preference outside the limits where that economic pest rages. And (and it is a point worthy of note) this change of location, so fatal to landowners in the old towns, has become more and more easy. At a time when lack of security forced people to concentrate in localities which nature had fortified and where art came to the aid of nature, when, on the other hand, the difficulty of constructing artificial ways of communication and maintaining them in good condition rendered the natural ways, such as navigable rivers more valuable, the number of locations suited to become centres of population, was very limited. At the same time the slowness with which private dwellings and public edifices were constructed, (years were sometimes devoted to the building of a house, and centuries to the construction of a cathedral), condemned the people who changed their location, to endless privations and discomforts. Circumstances combined to give existing towns, considered as places of residence, a veritable natural monopoly. But, influenced by the progress already mentioned, this monopoly is disappearing more and more, and as a result, it daily becomes more easy for the people to rid themselves of the burden which a bad administration imposes upon them. Nor do they neglect to do so; for we see them abandoning towns where the expenses of living is too great, (commencing in the quarters less favorably situated), and enlarging the faubourgs or creating, farther away, new centres of activity and wealth. Thus, by drawing largely on the purses of tax payers and unscrupulously issuing any number of bills of credit on future generations, prodigal executives, far from adding to the prosperity of their cities, end by precipitating them into inevitable ruin. Economy in expense should be the supreme rule in the government of cities, as well as in the government of nations. By observing this rule, much more than by increased demolitions, constructions, and festivities, municipal administrations may acquire serious and lasting claims to public gratitude.

G. DE MOLENARI. [original reads "Molenari" but probably typo for "Molinari".—Econlib Ed.]

Notes for this chapter

All this has been rapidly changing since the abolition of the feudal system in Japan.—E. J. L.
This is now changed, and Calabria is comparatively secure.—E. J. L.

Footnotes for CIVIL LIST

End of Notes

229 of 1105

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