Earlier today I returned from a wonderful trip to Los Angeles. Besides the beautiful weather, I was surprised by how much I appreciated Los Angeles as a city given how much hate is thrown its way; the subject of an upcoming blog post, perhaps. I packed a copy of Jane Jacob’s The Economy of Cities in my bag, turning what had been an unintentional knack for reading Jacobs on trips (The Death and Life of the Great American Cities in Austin, Texas; Systems of Survival and The Nature of Economies in Prague and surrounding areas) into a planned habit. Like her more popular The Death and LifeThe Economy of Cities makes what would initially seem like a dry subject – urban economics – downright engrossing, simultaneously explaining the received wisdom on the subject and tearing it to shreds. Below, I’ve posted a few quotes/thoughts that stood out to me. I’m tempted to share the entire final paragraph, if not the entire final section, but I don’t want to spoil the fun. So, here are a few standouts to entice you to give it a read:

“Division of labor, in itself, creates nothing. […] When finer and finer divisions develop unhindered, they do not advance the efficient organization of work, as we all have reason to know from experience with bureaucracies.” p. 82-3

“The idea that, under sensible economic planning, population growth must be limited because natural resources are limited is profoundly reactionary. Indeed, that is not planning for economic development at all. It is planning for stagnation. So little does this seem to be understood, that it is becoming conventional (especially among the very well-off) to assume that poor and unproductive people cause their own poverty by multiplying – that is, by their very numbers.” p. 118-9

“To seek “causes” for poverty in this way is to enter into an intellectual dead end because poverty has no causes. Only prosperity has causes.” p. 120-1

“Artificial symptoms of prosperity or a “good image” do not revitalize a city, but only explicit economic growth process for which there are no substitutes.” p. 200

“As an economy grows, its older, well-established economic interests grow less important and less powerful as part of the whole.” p. 247

“[Commenting on Marx] The primary economic conflict…is between people whose interests are already well-established economic activities, and those whose interests are with the emergence of new economic activities.” p. 249

From economic history to social welfare programs to foreign aid to class conflict, Jacobs has something interesting to add. Check it out here. 

M. Nolan Gray (02/11/2015)

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