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

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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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Glass Walls Make Sense on the Subway. Let’s Do it.

From Today’s New York Daily News. “It’s called platform screen doors. London has them on some lines. So does Paris. Seoul has them, and Shanghai has them. In fact, they are common now in metro systems all over the world.

Platform screen doors are glass walls between you and the dangerous tracks in the open pit. When a train enters the station, it lines up with the glass doors, which open to let the passengers in and out.”

Transit Makes Traffic Worse: And That’s Okay!

Nathaniel Rich had an interesting review of two recent books about the urbanist Jane Jacobs in the November issue of The Atlantic. It was fascinating, particularly where he shows how as a young writer Jacobs praised praised urban renewal and tall towers with that same voice of certainty that a few years late she would use to condemn those same practices. But he gets it wrong when in summarizing Jacobs’ impact, he states that “no one questions anymore . . . that investment in public transportation reduces traffic.”

Actually, many question this, including me. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that it makes car traffic worse, not better. Subways, buses and so forth, when successful, promote more people living and working in smaller areas, which means there is less room for cars, whether on the streets or parked. This is a bad thing only if you view public transit through the myopic lens of its effect on driving. If you view public transit as making it possible to live without a car, or fewer cars, or to live in a place with more stuff around you, than the equation changes. My Brooklyn neighborhood is a terrible place to own or drive a car, but it’s precisely because of that that it is great in a lot of other ways. And it’s the extensive network of public transportation, from subways to buses to public bikes, that makes it the way it is.

Batista Is A Name That Should Have Been Used More During Obama’s Visit To Cuba

This story by Jim Rutenberg in today’s New York Times introduced a welcome bit of perspective into press coverage of Obama’s visit to Cuba that has been noticeably too rah-rah and lacking in well, perspective, particularly historical. And even Rutenberg did not say the name that should have been in many a Obama-goes-to-cuba story: Batista. Fulgencio Batista, to be exact. The reason why Cuba has a left-wing dictator now, is that it used to have a right-wing dictator, one supported quite firmly for decades by the United States. Support that took the form of money, weapons, advice and policy. That’s why it’s ahistorical and bad journalism for the press to focus so intently on the political prisoners held by Cuba under Fidel and Raul Castro, in a sanctimonious and supercilious way. There should be some mention that the United States had little problem with political prisoners – as well as torture and murder – back when they were being held by a right-wing dictator. Some might say this is ancient history, but it’s not so ancient. It has led directly to the state of affairs in Cuba today. 

Even When It Comes to Fighting Inequality, Both DeBlasio and Krugman prefer Hillary

I went and saw Mayor Bill DeBlasio and economist Paul Krugman converse last night, in a moderated conversation about Inequality at the the Graduate Center of CUNY in the old Altman’s building at 5th Avenue. I was hoping to leap up and ask a killer question about infrastructure, but although I was sitting in the press section, I didn’t have a chance. When questions were asked, on index cards, the first was about the Clinton/Sanders race, or Hillary/Bernie race. Even I was a bit surprised that after an hour talking about inequality, both men essentially said they preferred Hillary, even though both acknowledged Bernie’s leadership on the issue. Of the two men, Krugman was more succinct and memorable, perhaps surprising given that he’s not a politician. The line of his that stuck with me, about Sanders: “Having your heart in the right place is not enough.” And also, that clear thinking and rigorous analysis also needs to be a progressive value. I turned on my recorder when the conversation got to politics, so here is about six minutes, with DeBlasio speaking first.

It’s Our Democracy, Not Our Privacy, that the NSA Threatens

I was bothered by yesterday’s Sunday editorial in the New York Times about not letting fear of foreign hackers erode the move to reign in and put safeguards on the massive government spying program run largely by the National Security Agency. This is the one that Edward Snowden revealed with such success (although not for his own personal fortunes. He remains, sadly, in exile in Moscow.) What bothered me was not the overall sentiments or political viewpoint – yes, we need to reign in, a lot, the NSA – but the reasons the Times gives for doing so. It named respecting or not violating our privacy, twice, as the principal reason, along with unnamed other “civil liberties.” It’s not my privacy I worry so much about. I don’t really give a rat’s ass if the government is watching me watch porn, or whatever. What I worry is about is my democracy. A government cannot long endure, at least not one that is a government by and for the people, that has a situation where a small portion of the governed are spying routinely and massively on the governed. What you get at best is a kind of paternalistic managing class. At worst you get a semi or not so semi police state. Let’s not talk so much about privacy when we talk about how and whether these internal spying programs continue. Let’s talk about our democracy, and the right rules for a vibrant democracy.

Singapore Going Down, Underground

This is an interesting story about Singapore’s planned strategy of developing more underground spaces and tunnels, and I’m quoted a few paragraphs into it. I was sought out for the quote because I’m the author of a book about cities and their underground environments. It’s called Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities, and it’s still available at Amazon.