Sunday, April 08, 2007

A little while ago Molly finished reading the book 'The Nature of Economies' by author Jane Jacobs (1916-2006). Jacobs was one of the vanishing breed of "public intellectuals". Like Murray Bookchin she was unattached to the academy, and, unlike Bookchin, she was also unattached to any ideology. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania she later moved to NYC where she studied at Columbia University's extension school. She worked for the City of New York at this time and also wrote her most famous book, 'The Life and Death of GreaT The American Cities' (1961) at this time. In this book she advanced the idea of dense, mixed-use, urban communities which she advocated through her life. In 1968 she moved to Toronto because of objections to the Vietnam War and concerns about the fate of her two draft age sons. Here she worked against the construction of the Spadina Expressway and elaborated her views on "car culture". She also wrote 'The Economy of Cities' (1969) at this time, and became a Canadian citizen in 1974. She later wrote an urbanist perspective on Quebec sovereignty entitled 'The Question of Separation:Quebec and the Struggle over Separation' (1980). The Economy of Cities advances the idea that cities led to the discovery of agriculture rather than the opposite in contradiction to the prevalently archaeological ideas both then and now. She also put forward her idea of "import replacement" as an explanation of the economic booms that some cities have experienced in history, an idea that she considered her seminal contribution.
Later in 1984 she wrote 'Cities and the Wealth of Nations' challenging the idea of classical economics that it was the nation state that was the main player in macroeconomics. In 1992 she published ''Systems of Survival:A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics'. in this book she classified moral judgements about work into two mutually exclusive systems, "commercial moral syndrome" and "guardian moral syndrome".
In 2000 she published the work that Molly has just read, 'The Nature of Economies' in which the discussion is set up as a "platonic dialogue" in which several friends discuss how economies function. In this book Jacobs makes extensive comparisons between ecosystems and economies. The comparison is taken to mean that "imports" are seen as the important analogue of external energy in biology, a perceptual phase shift from the concentration on exports in traditional economics. Both economies and ecosystems are seen as "dynamically stable" systems in which collapse is prevented by an ever changing system of "micro" adjustments that result in a "macro" stability. She lays out four ways in which both ecosystems and economies avoid collapse, "bifurcations, positive feedback loops, negative feedback loops and emergency adaptions". The nature of unpredictability is also discussed and with it the proposition that a self organizing system (as opposed to a centrally directed economy) is able to adapt faster and better than a centrally controlled one. A particularly interesting part of this analogy is how economies "self-refuel" through elaboration of their inputs by an increasingly diverse recycling of the inputs by processes within the economies. The way that innovation comes from "combination" of technologies (an analogy to symbiosis ?) is also discussed.
Jacob's last book, 'Dark Age Ahead', reviewed in the latest Anarcho-Syndicalist Review is considerably more pessimistic than her earlier work, showing a loss of faith in the ability of the present North American economy to avoid decadence and decline.
To see what there is available of Jane Jacob's works on the web go to


Larry Gambone said...

You are not having a good time with links. The supposed Jacobs theory link takes you to some advertising nonsense and not her. By the way, thanks for running the article on her, she is of special interest to anarchists.

mollymew said...

Problem now corrected Larry. Seems I make more than my fair share of typos. See the latest posts for more from where the Jacobs reference comes from.