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.
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.