15 June 2012

Jane Jacobs

I read Jane Jacobs Cities and the Wealth of Nations some years ago, and it amazed me. One key point I got is that Jacobs disputes the notion that centralized control of economies is ever going to do much good, and, in the long run, is certainly doomed.


This agrees with the evidence of history. The plunder economies of the Assyrians and Myceneans, and, late in the game, the Romans, show the long term results. Centralized control of economies means a redistributive economy; that is, you take from one sector and give to another sector. The basic problem is that one must draw funds from productive sectors, but the money tends to be redistributed to unproductive sectors. The unproductive sectors could just as easily be a class of idle rich or poor.

I have heard it argued that both classes then spend the money, thus generating markets, but the problem with that is in order to get those funds, and industrious sector was suppressed. So you have a net loss. Further, the suppression of industrious sectors inhibits the creation of new industries that create jobs, and this is bad for rich and poor alike.

But that was not even the central thesis of the book. It was just one of the things I took away, and from it, one can see that Democrats or Republicans, Fascists or Socialists are NOT going to be much interested, for they are all hanging onto essentially the same economic model, and the model itself never worked.

Jacob's main point is that cities are the engines of economies. As an historian, The fantastic eras of innovation, as in Classical Greece, Ancient China, and Renaissance Italy point to the power of city states as engines of industry and innovation.

Sadly, their internecine bickering always tended in two directions, both bad. First, it weakened them; second, they were thus susceptible to internal "commanding generals" or external conquerors.

Thus, most people will concede the need for some sort of strong central authority.

If only such authorities could keep their grubby little hands off the economies of cities!

It's no wonder Jacobs is largely ignored.


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