Jonathan Rothwell

In 1906, James McKeen Cattell of Columbia University assembled a list of the 1000 most eminent American scientists of his day and published an analysis of their geographic distribution in the journal Science, including the 40 cities with at least five top scientists. Those cities correspond to 30 metropolitan areas today. Those metropolitan areas were home to 26 percent of 1900 U.S. population but 78 percent of the nation’s top scientists. Today, these metropolitan areas account for 24 percent of the U.S. population and 42 percent of U.S.

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For the first time since World War II, there are fewer jobs three years after the end of a recession than before it began. Our new Brookings report suggests that most of this flat recovery can be attributed to severe losses in housing wealth and jobs in industries such as manufacturing and construction. Yet education--especially the balance between the demand and supply of educated workers--is the most important factor explaining long-run unemployment in metropolitan and national labor markets. First, consider the short-run picture.

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What explains the wide range of economic growth and prosperity across U.S. regions, and why is it so hard for struggling metro areas to reverse multi-decade trends? These are the questions that urban economist Enrico Moretti addresses in The New Geography of Jobs. In his vision, innovative workers and companies create prosperity that flows broadly, but these gains are mostly metropolitan in scale, meaning that geography substantially determines economic vitality. To start, the book offers a hopeful interpretation of technological change and globalization.

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Are jobs requiring scientific knowledge scarce, relative to other fields?

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This week, the debate over the economy and environmental policy reached a new low. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform which he chairs, made Bureau of Labor Statistics officials go through a list of jobs and say whether or not they were counted as green in their “Green Goods and Services Survey” in order to ridicule it. In a comical exchange between Issa and BLS Commissioner John Galvin, Issa lists at least seven jobs that are both pedestrian and far from the sorts of cleantech jobs highlighted as dynamic jobs of the future.

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I’ve been enjoying Niall Ferguson’s new PBS series on the rise of civilization in Western Europe. One of the many lessons is that other societies—like China and the Ottoman Empire—were seemingly well positioned to lead the world into an industrial revolution, but at key points, their leaders rejected scholarship, scientific inquiry, and trade, while, haltingly, those things began to flourish in Western Europe, its universities, and its chartered commercial and learning institutions, like the Royal Society of London.

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Facebook’s IPO (Initial Public Offering) is projected to value the company at $104 billion. Reportedly, only Visa has had a larger IPO. Only time will tell if Facebook is really worth such an astronomical sum, but one thing about it is not all extraordinary: Its location in the Bay Area. From 1996 to 2006, 9 percent of all U.S. IPOs were headquartered in the San Francisco metropolitan areas--where Facebook is located--and another 10 percent came from the San Jose metro area. The data come from University of California-Davis professor Martin Kenney and his colleague Don Patton.

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The hottest topic in economic development theory right now is the role of institutions.

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Recently in the Wall Street Journal, transportation consultant Wendell Cox published an op-ed entitled: “California Declares War on Suburbia.” Cox argues that “planners” in California are attacking what he calls “the most popular housing choice,” the single-family detached home, and if they get their way, they will weaken California’s economy, drive up housing prices, and increase traffic congestion. Actually, the homogenous prevalence of low-density single-family suburban housing is the outcome of the very government “planning” process that Cox decries, as economist Ed Glaeser has noted (see

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It is increasingly well understood that cities are the primary location and mechanism of innovation and, in turn, prosperity (see “The Triumph of the City” or urban scaling). But which cities are the most innovative on earth? For a long time, getting sub-national economic data for a large number of countries was impossible, but no longer. New data from the OECD show which cities have the most inventors in the world, measured by those who apply for patent protection in multiple countries (under the Patent Cooperation Treaty).

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