THE EXPERT WITNESS ... (continued)

Economics for everyone (episode seventeen)

Lessons from the more distant past, part two

Continued ...

Early Common Era through the Western Renaissance

Though the city-states of Plato exemplify the most thoroughly developed of those represented in earlier thought, they are by no means unique. The cosmogony and inherent mathematical system upon which Plato drew appears to have prevailed in understanding throughout the ancient world. The last dominant expression of an ideal urban model emerged at the transition from the Greco Roman to the Magian period. This expression takes the form of the apocalyptic vision that was initially ascribed to John the Apostle and printed as the Book of Revelation, the final book in the New Testament. However, this vision also is ascribed to John, the Bishop of Patmos, who lived two centuries after John the Apostle. In his vision, John presents the evolution of an ideal city. He describes a majestic figure on a throne at the center surrounded by a court. His elaborate description implies a centralized government sector using symbolic numbers based on one and the exponential powers of expansion for numbers 2 and 3.

A population of twenty-four elders (23 times 3) gathers around the throne. Next, John describes an extended population of thousands (24 times 32 times 1,000) surrounding the twenty-four elders. Then he partitions the immense multitude of the entire human population into twelve segments (reflecting the ancient geometric expansion through the Seed, Fruit, and Tree of Life) and divides the whole into two classes. The first class, two-thirds of the whole (2:3), will be saved, while the second class of one-third of all humans (1:3) meets its destruction. Following the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, The Book of Revelation became the last book of the Christian Bible.

The image of the Heavenly City, from the Greek and Christian Golden Ages, may have survived the medieval world for political reasons rather than aesthetic ones. Following the capture of Rome by the Goths in 410 A.D., the Christian Church feared that citizens of Rome would blame it for the collapse of the empire, resulting in a return to the old religions and martial and heroic values by the Roman people. In response, the Church distinguished the City of Man from the City of God, thereby separating church from state and giving each separate but related spheres of operation. As a result, the simpler monocentric model of John the Apostle/John of Patmos survived through art and literature as the highest expression of the ideal city until the late Middle Ages. This perfect city of John of Patmos most closely resembles the structure of Plato's land of Magnesia. Even during the decline of the Middle Ages when ancient Greek thought fell into obscurity, the ideal monocentric city described by John of Patmos continued to influence Western opinion.

Our Modern Age

During the Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire, much ancient knowledge becomes lost or submerged in Western culture. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, Italian Doctor of the Church and philosopher Thomas Aquinas and other scholars re-introduce the ideas of Plato into mainstream Western thought, events that led to the rebirth of monocentric urban thought during the Renaissance.

New developments in the monocentric urban model emerged during the first phase of the Renaissance through the writing of "Utopia" by the English humanist and social philosopher Thomas More (1516, Yale University Press, 1964). He creates a utopia that is not a paradise myth but rather a vehicle for comments on his society of the time. More uses his creation in a way similar to modern economic models.

In "Utopia," More creates a circular island with a central island separated from an outer ring by a circular river. From a mountain, adjacent to the bay at one side of the island, the river runs around the inner isle and empties into the bay, thereby separating the island into two rings. More locates the principal city at the center of the island and seven smaller settlements around the outer ring.

In general terms, More contributes to the further development of the monocentric model. He re-introduces Platonic tradition to Western thought through an allegorical land that is built upon an extensive analysis of social mechanisms. Specifically, More offers several social plans bearing economic ramifications. Within the territory of any city, he allows an entirely mobile labor force to journey to any location, to practice their trade, and to have others who are doing the same business accept them.

Furthermore, More provides his mobile labor force with free use of an oxen-drawn wagon driven by a slave of the city government. During his journey, the laborer carries nothing with him, for he feels at home everywhere. This transportation system reduces the hidden physical costs to zero and ensures that no external damages arise due to a lack of familiar neighborhood amenities.

During the Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries, "Utopia" influenced significant works on the structure, conduct, and performance of city-states. These works include those of Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella ("The City of the Sun," 1623, University of California Press, 1981) and French Neoclassical architect Claude Nicholas Ledoux ("L'Architecture Consideree Sous le Rapport de l'Art, des Moeurs et de la Legislation," Chez l'Auterer, 1804), who selects a real plan-site at the town of Chaux, France. Most of these early models concern themselves with elements of public-sector economics and the government-service sector, which would regulate all private-sector activity.

In the tradition of Plato and his successors, German economist Johann Heinrich von Thünen develops a model with a central town surrounded by six concentric agricultural rings in his book "The Isolated State" (the 1826, trans. Peter Hall, Pergammon Press, 1966). His advancements set the stage for the urban thought of the last two centuries. As with Ledoux, von Thünen selects a real plan-site in the bleak terrain of northern Germany. However, he uses Land Rent, Wage, and Profit Theories developed by Scottish economist Adam Smith and English economist David Ricardo. Von Thünen addresses the economic aspects of the monocentric state in more precise language than had earlier writers.

Similar to the Athens and Magnesia of Plato, Von Thünen imagines his state as having only one large town at the center of a fertile plain. He devotes this surrounding land that has homogenous fertility to agriculture. No rivers or canals exist. An uncultivated wilderness surrounds the circular state, which isolates his country, while nearby mines supply raw material to manufacturers located in the town.

Von Thünen describes this agrarian area as six differentiated concentric rings. From innermost outward, he outlines their uses for cash-cropping; forestry; first and second crop-rotation systems, with the second less intensive than the first; a three-fallow system; and the grazing of animals. Significantly, rent decreases from the center outward as does population density.

For both Plato and von Thünen, similar economic situations exist. Their world functions through a foot- and horse-drawn transportation system. Von Thünen concerns himself not with the economics of intra urban manufacturing transportation but rather with agricultural transportation. This has a more significant effect upon land rents in a world of concentrated urban areas.


Throughout the ages, Monocentric Urban Models have provided civilizations with useful tools for self-analysis and for serving as a foundation for developing new models in modern times. Though urban models change across the ages, specific themes, such as radiating roads and concentric metropolitan rings, continue to reappear throughout the evolution of Urban Study.

The analyses contained within these past two episodes vary from the descriptive prose of Plato, More, and von Thünen to the advanced mathematics of the recent half-century. A new era in the evolution of our understanding of cities and the dynamics of urban culture suggests a revised model containing three principal features: a circular plain with a centralized primary business district, a radial partitioning of land, and a surrounding ring with agglomerative subcenters at nodal points on these rings. On a meta-level, our exploration calls for the unification of higher thought in the fields of Law and Economics. This cross-fertilization of fields may lead us toward the goal of achieving a human state of sufficient affluence within a sustainable economy.
Dr. John F. Sase teaches Economics at Wayne State University and has practiced Forensic and Investigative Economics for twenty years. He earned a combined M.A. in Economics and an MBA at the University of Detroit, followed by a Ph.D. in Economics from Wayne State University. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (

Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a supervisory editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for over twenty years. Currently, he edits books for publication (

Julie G. Sase is a copyeditor, parent coach, and empath. She earned her degree in English at Marygrove College and her graduate certificate in Parent Coaching from Seattle Pacific University. Ms. Sase coaches clients, writes articles, and edits copy (