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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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.

Roads Were Not Made For Cars – Really

An interesting new book arrived on my desk: “Roads Were Not Built For Cars”, published by Island Press and authored by Carlton Reid. He details the history which I have known in general terms, which is that the early roads in the late 19th century were built primarily for and because of the lobbying efforts of bicyclists, which had grown dramatically in number and influence in that era. The book is a comeback to those who say that roads were made for cars, and that cyclists and pedestrians should depart from them.

Bacon’s Castle and the Beginnings of Race-based slavery

Great story this morning by my old colleague Denise Watson, in The Virginian-Pilot, where I used to be a staff writer. It was about what the story says is the oldest “British built brick building” in the new world, Bacon’s Castle in Virginia, not too far from where I grew up. It’s celebrating its 350th anniversary. The “castle” was named for Nathaniel Bacon, who didn’t own it or build it, but briefly took it over when he and a bunch of other malcontents, including indentured servants and slaves of various colors, took it over in the late 1600s.

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.”