The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs

book jacketThe Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs (2000) [author 1916-2006]

The book jacket flap praises this book as a modern urban classic. The book “is written in the form of a Platonic dialogue” which I hate.

“The conversation over coffee among five contemporary New Yorkers. . . discuss[es]: Does economic life obey the same rules as those governing the system in nature? For example, can the way fields and forests maximize their intakes and uses of sunlight teach us something about how economics expend wealth and jobs and can do this in environmental beneficial ways?”

Wikipedia has a good article on her writings and activism.

The book is difficult to read despite what reviewers say. The drifty conversation model makes it difficult to follow a theme. The multiple personalities that express various points of view are difficult to grasp as entire characters. A novel would build some backstory so the points of view would have something on which to anchor their views.

Here is a quote from a Google search. Unfortunately, the link to the full article is broken.

book jacketJane Jacobs, author of the masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, speaks with the conservative Reason Magazine. On the topic of New Urbanism, she says: “The New Urbanists want to have lively centers in the places that they develop, where people run into each other doing errands and that sort of thing. And yet, from what I’’ve seen of their plans and the places they have built, they don’’t seem to have a sense of the anatomy of these hearts, these centers. They’’ve placed them as if they were shopping centers. They don’’t connect. In a real city or a real town, the lively heart always has two or more well-used pedestrian thoroughfares that meet. In traditional towns, often it’’s a triangular piece of land. Sometimes it’s made into a park.”

I have decided not to do any quotes here because the nature of the text requires pages and pages of following “conversation” so would have limited meaning out of context. She does favor the illusion of “free” markets “naturally” balancing and equates it to the natural world, but I do not think she quotes gets the underlying effect of what she is expressing.

For example, some bright person decided to import a Japanese plant, kudzu, into Louisiana and elsewhere in the South. I don’t recall why (I lived there so became familiar that way). However, with no natural predators and a voracious capacity to engulf everything, it soon became its own natural disaster becoming a speeding problem that is difficult to eradicate and save natural communities.

Kudzu is mentioned in the context of how it will eventually choke out the very land that it needs to grow and survive. You’re just going to have to read it to get that point of view. My concern is that the conversationalists show no regard for the creatures, plants, and anything that stands in the plant’s way. Supply and demand and the impact on wages for labor are treated as “natural” and inviolable, and they are not. Wages are not natural at any level. To apply the principles of any form of economics to justify the exploitation of labor in any way disregards reality for theoretical and ideological fantasies.

Let to themselves we know that nature does somehow manage to balance ecosystems. We have killed off all the large predators that would have, for example, kept the deer population in check. So in that sense, it is good that they allow hunting because nothing is left to trigger a decline in population. Unfortunately, the current administration for some sick reason, wants to kill any remaining large predators by allowing bears and cubs to be shot in their dens. Wolves too, which have been mowed down by helicopter machine gun fire decimating entire packs, are going to be wiped out soon to prevent the loss of one lousy cow. Not because of any concern for the cow as a living creature, but as a walking pile of money that will end up on a plate, or maybe into cat and dog food.

Even thought ranchers would have insurance on their livestock, basically people like to kill just because they can.

So for the people to be discussing economics and ecosystems as equivalents in any sense is truly apples and oranges. People break all of natures natural protective mechanisms. We breed and breed because god or ignorance or violence or so many events that cause it, and then some people refuse to accept the clear and obvious notion that we cannot all keep living and simultaneously have ranches with more and more cow methane and all the consequences of the beef industry, including the destruction of Amazon forests that supply our oxygen. Exxon has been poisoning the earth for decades, knowingly, and willfully, for PROFIT. That is capitalism.

Without regulations, laws, and punitive measures, NO ONE would defer their self-interest of profits for the common good. We see that everywhere and anywhere we look today, but most egregiously in the United States where massive inequality continues to steal from the poor and give to the very very most wealthy and they pretend that this is “natural” market forces and the essence of “freedom” equals no regulation.

Economics will never EXPAND wealth as the author seems to believe it might. The only wealth expansion we will ever see is the expansion of wealth by the wealthy. The old you need to have money to make money. The people who get the best interest rates on loans are the ones who need it the least. The people working for a major industry in a town get offered all kinds of discounts yet they are the ones with the jobs and the money that privileges them with economic security so they don’t NEED any discount perks.

What is natural about taking from the least able to afford it and transferring their pittance of wealth to the hands of the ultra-rich?

She is an interesting person with many notable accomplishments but there is not sufficient factual data to establish her embrace of free market supply and demand and economics as anything more valid than a belief system made up to achieve the opposite results – economic security by NOT making people work.

She weaves a fine story, but essentially frames the questions and the answers to fit her pet point-of-view (as do we all). There is too much acceptance of form over substance in her analysis.




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