August Losch, Central Place Theory and Cornwall

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August Losch

August Losch adapted the existing model of Central Place Theory in 1954 within his seminal text ‘The Economics of Location’.

In this work, he adapted an earlier study by German geographer Walter Christaller. Christaller had developed Central Place Theory, which, for him centred around the distribution of goods and accumulation of profit depending on transport and location. The impact of this on Cornwall could be seen, some have ventured, by the vast difference between the likes of the monied mine owners and smelters compared to the circumstances that the miners had to live in.  The theory relies on several assumptions: i) People always purchase from the nearest place, ii) Populations are evenly distributed, iii) Consumers pay shipping costs and iv) People act economically rationally.

Losch’s text and associating theory can be used as confirmation as to why Cornwall has historically struggled economically since the decline of the historic mining community. More importantly though, it makes the failing of successive governments to provide sufficient funding and enterprise to the territory even more scandalous.

Extremely early on in ‘The Economics of Location’, Losch identifies ‘Production as a function of distance’ as a major element of a successful local economy – the influence of freight cost forms a key part of a building a strong local finance base. Cornwall’s peripheral location and poor transport links are an obvious Achilles heel as, for Losch, if economic development is hampered by high freight costs, then it will have a knock on impact on the ‘Agglomeration of Locations’ – where production grows to great heights due to easy and cheap freight links.

Arguably the most historically telling point made in the book, which could be used to trace Cornwall’s fragile economic development is what Losch terms ‘Agglomeration Through Interrelationship’, as a vital factor in the growth of a local economy. This centres around the presence of a railway. Cornwall was not finally connected to the rest of the UK by rail until the opening of the Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash in 1859, which meant that, in terms of economic development many other parts of the UK had a head start on gaining this particular advantage.

The points that Losch makes in the book may seem elementary and obvious, yet time and again it has been ignored by those in power to the detriment not just of the Cornish economy, but also to a balanced UK economy, which has become overly reliant on the South-East of England.

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