I sit here typing, and on my body I have some nice wool pants with a hounds-tooth pattern, a charcoal gray sports jacket, and in my pockets various possessions, including my ever present Iphone, that I would prefer to keep. If someone challenged me on whether I “owned” these things, I would be hard pressed to prove it. I did not keep the receipts. Luckily, that is unlikely to happen.
As David Carr said so well in this essay a few weeks ago, television is now the opposite of a wasteland. It is instead a lovely Olmstedian park, filled with glorious wonders, shady reclines and scary but usually not too harmful caves and dark forests. It is a Golden Age, basically, for television.
In exploring this Golden Age, Carr and others usually focus on a few shows that are almost invariably “edgy.” They include the late, great The Wire, of which I am a bigger fan than anyone I wager, to lesser but still artfully done shows like Homeland, Justified, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and so on.
Okay, here’s number eight in my ongoing series, Nine Reasons Why The Free Market is a False Concept. Reason number eight is Water, and all it represents, which includes public works or infrastructure. If you keep reading, you’ll hear me say what it means to “define infrastructure upwards.”
Imagine yourself in New York City in 1835, the largest and most prosperous city in the country. But if you want a drink of water, you buy it, if you are rich, from a “tea man,” who fills your container from a barrel of water he ports around on the street. You probably don’t risk using a decrepit private water system of hollow logs under the streets. Most people use one of the few public wells, which are polluted, or draw water directly from a dirty stream or pond. There are no sewers, so when you use the toilet, your waste goes into the ground where it blends with the water you will later drink. Devastating epidemics happen every few years.
Having hundred or thousands of uniformed men (mostly men), ready to stamp out crime or unruly behavior, makes it easy not to know or remember that this is a relatively recent thing. London, under minister Robert Peele, invented the first professional metropolitan police force in the 1820s. These men became known as “Bobbies,” a reference to the first name of their creator. New York City followed suit in the 1840s and 1850s, but not without debate. Badged, uniformed men walking among the citizens were seen as a thread to its status as a citizen’s republic, and at least once the police force was created and then disbanded. During one incarnation the men wore only badges, not uniform. Read more in Chapter 15, Police and Prisons, in my book The Surprising Design of Market Economies.