My New Book “Surprising Design of Market Economies” Just Out


You can get my latest book, The Surprising Design of Market Economies, at your local bookstore or from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play etc. In it, I describe the ways that government builds our economy and culture, and argue that these deep structures should be a more explicit part of our public, political conversations. You can read Op-Eds I have written that draw upon the book in The New York Times [How To Get Business To Pay Its Fair Share], and two from Bloomberg View [Capitalism & Government Are Friends and Health Care Will Become a Right, Just Like Water].

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My Take on the Controversy over the New and Old Steve Jobs books

When I was a reporter at The Virginian-Pilot, I frequently noticed that people are really thin-skinned about anything written about a friend or relative, particularly one who has departed. Of course, this is normal but people seemed inordinately thin-skinned.

I seem to be rare – famous last words – in realizing that a story written about someone is not that person, and can never be. At best, it’s a tiny sliver of the reality of someone.

I was quoted and written about a lot during our unsuccessful Brooklyn Cohousing venture. In general, I was far more accepting of the stories that came out than many of the other members. Here is one among many. The exception or two were those that seemed mean-spirited, but those were rare.

Obama Backs Municipal Broadband and Fiber Networks

This is great news. Perhaps the corporate titans really can be challenged – and successfully. Perhaps the people and the politicians really can work together for the broad public interest.

The steps in that direction is President Barack Obama coming out yesterday in favor of publicly-owned fiber networks for broadband and other services. He spoke at Cedar Falls, Iowa within the headquarters of the town’s public utility, which gives its residents a gigabyte a second cheap. Here’s a story about it:

This is big. He’s directly taking on the telecomm companies. He is echoing FDR, who took on the private electric companies in the 1930s and called for public power and cooperative companies. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cedar Fall’s public power company dates to then. He also may polarize Republicans, even though Iowa’s Republican governor is a big supporter of what Cedar Falls is doing.
We may see history repeat itself in that rural areas, who have public municipal fiber networks, end up with better and cheaper internet services (and other services) than people in big cites. That’s what happened with public power.
I recommend watching the video at the top of the story. Good clips of the president’s speech, and good summary of issue. Obama will be raising this issue in his state of the union speech.
Here’s the Times story, which I just found.
Note the non-logic of the opponents. Government is less efficient than private providers  – so therefore we must prohibit government from doing this! And how telling that Michael Powell, the former head of the FCC under Bush and Colin Powell’s son, is now head of the national cable providers association, which of course opposes public broadband with a vengeance.
I can take some pleasure in perhaps being part of the pin-pricks that got Obama to take this position. Who knows, maybe an aide of his read my Governing column 18 months ago on this. Who Should Control Broadband? Governing Magazine, April 2013

Common Culture as Essential in USA as in France

My main emotion when I read Pamela Druckerman is envy, because she is saying things, good things, that I have been saying and sometimes writing about, for years. Yet she is a New York Times columnist! And I’m not. Get over it, Alex. We can’t all be Times columnists. Good for her.

My envy bone was struck this week with her column about becoming a French citizen, and what that entails. She notes, with apparent surprise, that being French has always meant learning or adopting a set of common practices and cultural knowledge, from how you hold a fork, to poems you cite.

Gay Talese and Me, Coming Soon, On Stage

If you’re in the New York area and a fan of bridges, great journalism and interesting discussion, come see me converse with the masterful Gay Talese, about the 50th anniversary re-publication of his classic, The Bridge, about the construction of the Verrazano. It’s Monday, Nov. 6, at 6:30 pm, in Greenwich Village. Click here for info. 

A Newscaster From My Past Makes A Lot of Damn Sense

Okay, check out this quote about economics. Then guess who wrote it and when.

“It simply made no sense to us. There were no immutable ‘laws’ – or damned few – about it. Economics was not a ‘science’ at all; it was fruitless to treat it as such, and to study it as a special, exclusive field. It was all mixed up with politics, with sociology, with geography and a good many other things. Clearly the ‘economic laws’ of competition were a fantastic delusion, merely an elaborate effort to justify things as they were by the invention of supposedly unchangeable forces which men mustn’t attempt to interfere with. It seemed to us as much of a hoax as the medieval scholars’ explanation of kingly authority as something derived from God. The system did not work, and if it did not work in America it certainly would not work anywhere.”

The Mellons vis-a-vis the Whitneys

Looking over the slide show here in this morning’s New York Times, I was struck by how similar the aesthetic was to the Greentree estate of the Whitney family on Long Island.  I had the good fortune to spend a few days there earlier this year, and I wrote about it for a column here in Governing. Of course, there are reasons not to be surprised about the similarities of the two estates. Both the Mellons and the Whitneys were/are extremely wealthy families that loved the rural life and were really into horses. They must have known each other. Were they friends or enemies?

Eduardo Porter Misses The Obvious: Corporations Can Do Good If Their Creator Makes Them.

Who creates corporations? Where do they come from? Who controls and sets their rights and responsibilities, and sets their very makeup?

I would like the usually astute Eduardo Porter to answer these questions, as he rereads his own essay, this essay from this morning’s New York Times. His essay is about corporations, and whether they can or should attempt to pay attention to anyone besides their shareholders and their quarterly profit statements. He concludes by essentially saying that while it sounds nice, we venture into murky territory in asking corporations to pay attention to anyone beside their shareholders. If want to have good things like more equitable pay for workers, we should turn to government.

It Just Ain’t Natural: Dubai and Other Cities

This Times piece by Jad Mouawad , a very good one, about the rise of Dubai fascinates me because it illustrates something I talk about in all three of my books: that cities are political enterprises first. The are not “natural.” They don’t arise in some sort of organic way, a small group of settlers on the banks of a river engaging in a bit of trade and so forth. That’s a myth. The story of Dubai reminds me of the story of New Amsterdam (now a city called New York), which only existed in the mid 1600s because the Dutch West India Corporation decided to settle and invest in this money-losing operation for a half century because it decided, for strategic reasons, that it was worthwhile.  Or of my native city of Norfolk, Va, which King Charles II commanded to be set up and have trade go through it, so the tobacco planters could less easily escape taxation. That Norfolk had a great natural harbor probably figured into Charles II’s decision, but it’s not like the city arose on its own there. It needed a king to command it into existence.

Rifkin’s New Book: What Is Common, What Is Free, What Is Socialism?

This is basically a book review, so get ready.

David Carr’s essay this week in the New York Times about the pleasures and problems of free music, and free everything else, brings to mind the new book by Jeremy Rifkin, which I got a review copy of recently. The book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things and Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism (Palgrave 2014), posits that, as Carr grapples with, we are going to a society where many things can be free or close to free. Rifkin describes and identifies the big change, which is the technology that makes it essentially free to produce one more copy of so many things, whether that be music, a book, a newspaper or even things that aren’t media related. This is a game changer, in terms of conventional economics.