Friday 1 July 2016

Triumph of the City

(May 2016)

Hmmm. On the one hand, yes. On the other, very much no.

Edward Glaesar is (or was at the point his author bio was written) the "Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics" at Harvard, which is a gloriously American job title (Glimp), which is appropriate for this most American of books. By which I means it takes the glorious diversity and variation of human society and implicitly bemoans the fact that everywhere is not more like America.

I mean, the man makes some good points, some very good ones, but this whole thing is so very grounded in a single worldview that you can't help but bristle against aspect of it. Take, for example, his views on education. His notion is that the education system in many cities is failing, and fair enough. However, his solution is to suggest either full on privatization of the education system, and let market forces sort it out, or, (and he there's something of the 'both sides of the story' pretence about this) have the state step in entirely and invest properly. Trouble is, when you say 'Let the market decide', what you're also saying is that 'enterprises will fail', which is all very well if you're talking about office supplies or autoparts manufacturers, but a failing enterprise in education is a failing school, with failing students, who can't just brush themselves down and look for another job. Treating education as a business means treating students as products, means treating people as objects, and that is the top of a very, very slippery slope.

Glaeser is, however, clearly writing for a very specific audience (the cover boasts of the books shortlisting for the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year, which should give you some idea). This imposes certain constraints, as evidenced by the rhetorical knots he twists himself in in order to justify simply talking about the possible impacts of climate change. You do wonder at what point these arguments will become moot.

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