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Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life Paperback – 12 Mar 1985


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Product details

  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA Inc; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (12 Mar. 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394729110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394729114
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 1.5 x 18.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 427,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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For a little while in the middle of this century it seemed that the wild, intractable, dismal science of economics had yielded up something we all want: instructions for getting or keeping prosperity. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 Nov. 2001
Format: Paperback
Contrary to what is implied by a previous review, this book isn't a clarion-call to arms against globalisation and free-trade agreements, if you're looking for that, check out George Monbiot and similar writers. Having said that, there is a call for developed countries (through enlightened self-interest) to allow developing nations to erect tariff barriers while they develop - something that the early USA used to shield it's fledgeling industries from European manufactures... to the great benefit of both competing parties in the long run.
An example of a key concept: import replacing, whereby a city imports (say) bicycles, leading to development of its own bicycle repair industry, thus gaining skills and component manufacturing in this area, and so going on to become a bicycle exporter in its own turn. In the meantime, the previous bicycle exporting city will (if it has a healthy, import-replacing economy) also have moved on to other, new activities by replacing an import of its own.
Jacobs uses concepts like this to explain, convincingly, facts as diverse as the poverty of the Tennessee Valley area at the time of the famous (and ineffective, according to Jacobs) TVA project, the rise of the Asian tiger economies, why many cities stagnate, and the apparently inevitable decline of great military/imperial powers.
If you've read Jane Jacobs' earlier book on this topic (The Economy of Cities), her main theses on city economies will be somewhat familiar, but this is possibly more accessible and up to date; if you're only going to read one of Jacobs' books, then make it this one. You might then, like me, go back and lay your hands on everything that she has written that is still in print. For anyone who has an interest in economics, she really is that good.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 Nov. 1998
Format: Paperback
Jacobs writes convincingly that individual firms are not the basis of the economy. She identifies the city as a place in which economic activity is generated by a network of interlocking dependencies amkng firms as the basis of an economic analysis. She identifies these interdependencies as either being capable of adapting to change or incapable. A closed fixed system of interdependencies is the hallmark of a city (or a firm) which is ready for decline. Cities or enterprises in which the economic components are free to exploit new opportunties can adapt to challenges from outside. Jacobs charaterizes this adaptation as taking the form of a specialization of an existing economic component to supply a new need.
Contary to popular belief this notion of local as central to economic life is not opposed to glabalization. On the contrary it is opposed to the view that the nation state is central. Jacob's analysis explains economics as global network of independent local units. In this network each local unit will continuously adapt to the challenges and opportunities supplied by the needs and supplies of the other units.
Jacobs shows that only by being open to change, by being willing to adapt, by being willing to let old ways die oif they no longer serve their purpose can a city or an enterprise ensure its long term survival.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Aug. 1998
Format: Paperback
This book is a chilling repudiation of every word of our current economic gospel of global trade. Its central premise is that the metropolitan area or city-state is a fundamental economic building block, self-regulating and self-sustaining until outside forces conspire against it -- and what are shared currencies, free-trade agreements and globalization of markets for goods and labor but those very outside forces? If Jacobs' theory is correct -- and Lord help us, but I think it is -- we're on a runaway train in exactly the opposite direction we need to be going in to restore economic stability and fairness to the world. Everyone should read this book, if only to absorb a well-argued rebuttal to the free-trade propaganda with which we're constantly bombarded.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 12 reviews
69 of 74 people found the following review helpful
Wealth Creation 21 Feb. 2001
By Professor Joseph L. McCauley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Any settlement that becomes import-replacing becomes a city." Cities and the Wealth of Nations, Jane Jacobs
Written by an economist, this is a very unusual book. Ms. Jacobs is not hampered by orthodox preconceived notions, misleading postulated theoretical myths like utility optimization, rationality, or efficient markets. These standard phrases of neo-classical economic theory cannot be found in her book. Instead, and although her discussion is entirely nonmathematical, she uses a crude qualtitative idea of excess demand dynamics, of growth vs. decline. Her expectation is never of equilibrium. The notion of equilibrium never appears in this book. Jacobs instead describes qualitatively the reality of nonequilibrium in the economic life of cities, regions, and nations. She concentrates on the surprises of economic reality.
Jacobs argues fairly convincingly that significant, distributed wealth is created by cities that are inventive enough to replace imports by their own local production, that this is the only reliable source of wealth for cities in the long run, and that these cities need other like-minded cities to trade with in order to survive and prosper. Her expectation is of growth or decline, not of equilibrium. If she is right then the Euro and the European Union are a bad mistake, going entirely in the wrong direction. As examples in support of her argument she points to independent cites like Singapore and Hong Kong with their own local currencies. Other interesting case histories are TVA, small villages in France and Japan, other cases in Italy, Columbia, Ethiopia, US, Iran, ... .
The book begins in the chapter "Fool's Paradise' with discussions of Keynsian economics and Phillips curves (the Philips curve idea is demolished convincingly by Ormerod in "The Death of Economics"), I. Fisher and monetarism, and Marxism. These were all ideas requiring equilibria of one sort or another. Also interesting: her description why, in the long run, imperialism is bound to fail, written in 1984, well before the fall of the USSR. Her prediction for the fate of the West is not better. Jacobs is aware of the idea of feedback and relies on it well and heavily. She is a sharp observor of economic behavior and is well versed in economic history. This book will likely be found interesting by a scientifically-minded reader who is curious about how economies work, and why all older theoretical ideas (Keynes, monetarism, ... ) have failed to describe economies as they evolve.
I'm grateful to Yi-Ching Zhang of the Econophysics Forum for recommending this book.
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Specialization and Adaptation 13 Nov. 1998
By anne_rowe@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Jacobs writes convincingly that individual firms are not the basis of the economy. She identifies the city as a place in which economic activity is generated by a network of interlocking dependencies amkng firms as the basis of an economic analysis. She identifies these interdependencies as either being capable of adapting to change or incapable. A closed fixed system of interdependencies is the hallmark of a city (or a firm) which is ready for decline. Cities or enterprises in which the economic components are free to exploit new opportunties can adapt to challenges from outside. Jacobs charaterizes this adaptation as taking the form of a specialization of an existing economic component to supply a new need.
Contary to popular belief this notion of local as central to economic life is not opposed to glabalization. On the contrary it is opposed to the view that the nation state is central. Jacob's analysis explains economics as global network of independent local units. In this network each local unit will continuously adapt to the challenges and opportunities supplied by the needs and supplies of the other units.
Jacobs shows that only by being open to change, by being willing to adapt, by being willing to let old ways die oif they no longer serve their purpose can a city or an enterprise ensure its long term survival.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
An exciting, observant, and enduring work 27 April 2000
By Eric - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Wow. Jacobs is so adept at explaining the complex currents of global, national and local economies that even the casual reader will be spellbound. The book is simultaneously radical (she essentially repudiates all modern macro-economic theory) and reasonable. This book is a great asset to anyone who wishes to comprehend the world around them.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Dated in some particulars but not as a whole 19 Oct. 2004
By PGB - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It is true that the opening chapter of this book sounds dated, but the book as a whole still stands up well.

The first chapter provides the motivational background for the rest of the book by discussing the problem of stagflation, and how existing schools of economic thought failed to account for it (prices should not go up when the economy is in a slump). This does have a dated ring to it; who has been worried about stagflation in the past 20+ years? But the discussion of stagflation merely serves as motivation for what follows, and contemporary readers will be able to think up similar economic mysteries that we live with today, e.g. why did years of near-zero interest rates fail to stimulates Japan's economy as theory said they should, and similarly why is the US still struggling to recover from a recession when it interest rates have been at historic lows for several years?

The rest of the book is devoted Jacobs's thesis that the economic unit that matters is not the nation, nor the individual nor the corporation, but the city (or "city regions" as she calls them). She describes (using examples which still hold up today) the economic effects that cities have on each other and on less developed areas.

As in Jacobs's other books, the writing style is clear, direct and easy to understand.

I would like to hear Jacobs's perspective on European currency union: if she holds to the analysis of the effect of national currencies on cities given in this book then she should be predicting (in the long term) serious economic malaise in Europe, especially in those parts of the union which are currently less developed.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
One of the Best 12 Mar. 2000
By Joseph P. Garland - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read this in 1984. It is one of the five best non-fiction books I have read. Really. It forced me to reconsider some long-held notions about the economic role of individuals, and their environments, in society.
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