Sunshine Recorder


Rebel Cities
Occupy Wall Street staged a rebellion against corporate corruption and economic inequality in Manhattan’s parks and streets, but the battle for the city began with nineteenth century electrification of Broadway.
To wander Manhattan is to step into the modern fulfillment of an earlier age. The hurtling traffic, the stylish storefronts and bars, the pyramids of cupcakes, the lantern light of iPhones—it may all seem dreadfully contemporary, but its antiquity lies in the time of steam. “New York is a product of the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution,” Lewis Lapham observed in the fall 2010 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, “built on a standardized grid, conceived neither as a thing of beauty nor as an image of the cosmos, much less as an expression of man’s humanity to man, but as a shopping mall in which to perform the heroic feats of acquisition and consumption.”
If the lust to acquire and consume is one defining feature of the city, so too is its complement–deprivation and economic disparity. David Harvey, author of Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, describes Manhattan as “one vast gated community.” He describes the process by which the rich push the city’s less well-off to its peripheries and take hold of urban life. Tracing the history of urban uprisings from the 1870s to Occupy Wall Street, Harvey argues that cities have long been contested spaces, where the interests of money collide with the public good. Beginning in the late nineteenth-century—when modern New York took shape—one finds the dawning sense that for the city to be made safe for consumption and its contented, bourgeois destiny, it needed to be purged of the blemish of the poor.
For Industrial Revolution-era exponents of this belief, the spectacle of “acquisition and consumption” was one of arresting beauty. Were you to climb the spire of Trinity Church in lower Manhattan in 1872, you would have an uninterrupted view north along Broadway as far as Grace Church on Tenth Street. That vista, hemmed on both ends by Gothic steeples, offered a glimpse of the awesome scale of New York. Man shrank into the precision of the pumping city. “The long lines of passers and carriages take distinct shapes, and seem like immense black bands moving slowly in opposite directions,” wrote James D. McCabe, a nineteenth-century chronicler of the city. “The men seem like pigmies, and the horses like dogs. There is no confusion, however. The eye readily masses into one line all going in the same direction. Each one is hurrying on at the top of his speed, but from this lofty perch they all seem to be crawling at a snail’s pace.” Broadway had real power, absorbing the frantic striving of the individual into the rhythm of a city so much larger than him. It was, in McCabe’s words, “the most wonderful street in the universe,” dwarfing all other European or American rivals in “the extent of its grand display.” Broadway was “a world within itself.”
What sparkled in those two marvellous miles between the churches? What great display condensed the wonder of the universe into this single stretch of New York street?
Shops, of course. McCabe, the author of the guidebook Lights and Shadows of New York Life(1872), delighted in listing the proliferating stores that studded Broadway. There at the corner of Grand Street sat “the beautiful marble building occupied by the wholesale department of Lord & Taylor.” On Prince Street you would find “Ball & Black’s palatial jewelry store.” Passing theatres and hotels—the St. Nicholas, the Comique, the Metropolitan, the Olympic, and so on—you would finally reach “an immense iron structure painted white,” the vast edifice of A.T. Stewart’s Retail Store, one of the city’s first department stores, occupying the entire block between Ninth and Tenth streets. “It is always filled with ladies engaged in ‘shopping,’ and the streets around it are blocked with carriages. Throngs of elegantly and plainly dressed buyers pass in and out.”
McCabe dropped quotation marks around the word “shopping” because it was a novel activity. As a pastime (and not simply an exercise of necessity), shopping came into its own in the second half of the nineteenth century, when consumer-citizens, liberated by the mobility of the street car and the new safety offered by gas and electric street lamps, found disposable time and income to spend on the stuff of the industrial age. Shopping reflected the growing prosperity, elegance, and aspiration of New York. Broadway lay at its heart. “Jewels, silks, satins, laces, ribbons, household goods, silverware, toys, paintings… rare, costly, and beautiful objects of every description greet the gazer on every hand. All that is necessary for the comfort of life, all that ministers to luxury and taste, can be found here in the great thoroughfare.”
On Broadway, “no unsuccessful man can remain in the street. Poverty and failure have no place there.” One finds in McCabe’s guidebook an early example of the very bourgeois faith that we are what we buy. Broadway was, in his view, much more than a street. As a triumphant expression of both progress and prosperity, the spectacle of consumption was the defining scene of the age.
Today’s New York, where the belief that you are what you buy has been taken to an absurd extreme, might be familiar to McCabe. According to the CUNY-based urban geographer David Harvey—a contemporary Marxist scholar of the city—the “quality of urban life has become a commodity.” Ambitious consumption in New York encourages the sort of vacuous pursuit of fashion that prompted Ian Schrager, a slick hotelier and developer, to write: “Nationality and class have been replaced by lifestyle.” The ideal New Yorker has no past and no background, only a wallet and a will to buy.

Rebel Cities

Occupy Wall Street staged a rebellion against corporate corruption and economic inequality in Manhattan’s parks and streets, but the battle for the city began with nineteenth century electrification of Broadway.

To wander Manhattan is to step into the modern fulfillment of an earlier age. The hurtling traffic, the stylish storefronts and bars, the pyramids of cupcakes, the lantern light of iPhones—it may all seem dreadfully contemporary, but its antiquity lies in the time of steam. “New York is a product of the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution,” Lewis Lapham observed in the fall 2010 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, “built on a standardized grid, conceived neither as a thing of beauty nor as an image of the cosmos, much less as an expression of man’s humanity to man, but as a shopping mall in which to perform the heroic feats of acquisition and consumption.”

If the lust to acquire and consume is one defining feature of the city, so too is its complement–deprivation and economic disparity. David Harvey, author of Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, describes Manhattan as “one vast gated community.” He describes the process by which the rich push the city’s less well-off to its peripheries and take hold of urban life. Tracing the history of urban uprisings from the 1870s to Occupy Wall Street, Harvey argues that cities have long been contested spaces, where the interests of money collide with the public good. Beginning in the late nineteenth-century—when modern New York took shape—one finds the dawning sense that for the city to be made safe for consumption and its contented, bourgeois destiny, it needed to be purged of the blemish of the poor.

For Industrial Revolution-era exponents of this belief, the spectacle of “acquisition and consumption” was one of arresting beauty. Were you to climb the spire of Trinity Church in lower Manhattan in 1872, you would have an uninterrupted view north along Broadway as far as Grace Church on Tenth Street. That vista, hemmed on both ends by Gothic steeples, offered a glimpse of the awesome scale of New York. Man shrank into the precision of the pumping city. “The long lines of passers and carriages take distinct shapes, and seem like immense black bands moving slowly in opposite directions,” wrote James D. McCabe, a nineteenth-century chronicler of the city. “The men seem like pigmies, and the horses like dogs. There is no confusion, however. The eye readily masses into one line all going in the same direction. Each one is hurrying on at the top of his speed, but from this lofty perch they all seem to be crawling at a snail’s pace.” Broadway had real power, absorbing the frantic striving of the individual into the rhythm of a city so much larger than him. It was, in McCabe’s words, “the most wonderful street in the universe,” dwarfing all other European or American rivals in “the extent of its grand display.” Broadway was “a world within itself.”

What sparkled in those two marvellous miles between the churches? What great display condensed the wonder of the universe into this single stretch of New York street?

Shops, of course. McCabe, the author of the guidebook Lights and Shadows of New York Life(1872), delighted in listing the proliferating stores that studded Broadway. There at the corner of Grand Street sat “the beautiful marble building occupied by the wholesale department of Lord & Taylor.” On Prince Street you would find “Ball & Black’s palatial jewelry store.” Passing theatres and hotels—the St. Nicholas, the Comique, the Metropolitan, the Olympic, and so on—you would finally reach “an immense iron structure painted white,” the vast edifice of A.T. Stewart’s Retail Store, one of the city’s first department stores, occupying the entire block between Ninth and Tenth streets. “It is always filled with ladies engaged in ‘shopping,’ and the streets around it are blocked with carriages. Throngs of elegantly and plainly dressed buyers pass in and out.”

McCabe dropped quotation marks around the word “shopping” because it was a novel activity. As a pastime (and not simply an exercise of necessity), shopping came into its own in the second half of the nineteenth century, when consumer-citizens, liberated by the mobility of the street car and the new safety offered by gas and electric street lamps, found disposable time and income to spend on the stuff of the industrial age. Shopping reflected the growing prosperity, elegance, and aspiration of New York. Broadway lay at its heart. “Jewels, silks, satins, laces, ribbons, household goods, silverware, toys, paintings… rare, costly, and beautiful objects of every description greet the gazer on every hand. All that is necessary for the comfort of life, all that ministers to luxury and taste, can be found here in the great thoroughfare.”

On Broadway, “no unsuccessful man can remain in the street. Poverty and failure have no place there.” One finds in McCabe’s guidebook an early example of the very bourgeois faith that we are what we buy. Broadway was, in his view, much more than a street. As a triumphant expression of both progress and prosperity, the spectacle of consumption was the defining scene of the age.

Today’s New York, where the belief that you are what you buy has been taken to an absurd extreme, might be familiar to McCabe. According to the CUNY-based urban geographer David Harvey—a contemporary Marxist scholar of the city—the “quality of urban life has become a commodity.” Ambitious consumption in New York encourages the sort of vacuous pursuit of fashion that prompted Ian Schrager, a slick hotelier and developer, to write: “Nationality and class have been replaced by lifestyle.” The ideal New Yorker has no past and no background, only a wallet and a will to buy.

Link: The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent

In the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.

Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy.

The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.

The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.

The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken. Elites that have prospered from inclusive systems can be tempted to pull up the ladder they climbed to the top. Eventually, their societies become extractive and their economies languish.

hat was the future predicted by Karl Marx, who wrote that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. And it is the danger America faces today, as the 1 percent pulls away from everyone else and pursues an economic, political and social agenda that will increase that gap even further — ultimately destroying the open system that made America rich and allowed its 1 percent to thrive in the first place.

You can see America’s creeping Serrata in the growing social and, especially, educational chasm between those at the top and everyone else. At the bottom and in the middle, American society is fraying, and the children of these struggling families are lagging the rest of the world at school.

Economists point out that the woes of the middle class are in large part a consequence of globalization and technological change. Culture may also play a role. In his recent book on the white working class, the libertarian writer Charles Murray blames the hollowed-out middle for straying from the traditional family values and old-fashioned work ethic that he says prevail among the rich (whom he castigates, but only for allowing cultural relativism to prevail).


Inequality and Its Perils 
Emerging research suggests that the growing gap between rich and poor harms the U.S. economy by creating instability and suppressing growth.
At a salon dinner in Washington recently, the subject was inequality. An economist took the floor. Economic inequality, he said, is not a problem. Poverty is a problem, certainly. Unemployment, yes. Slow growth, yes. But he had never yet seen a good reason to believe that inequality, as such—the widening gap between top and bottom, as distinct from poverty or stagnation—is harmful to the economy.
Perhaps he spoke too soon.
Once in a while, a new economic narrative gives renewed strength to an old political ideology. Two generations ago, supply-side economics transformed conservatism’s case against big government from a merely ideological claim to an economic one. After decades in which Keynesians had dismissed conservatism as an economic dead end (“Hooverism”), supply-siders turned the tables. The Right could argue that reducing spending and (especially) tax rates was a matter not merely of political preference but of economic urgency.
Something potentially analogous is stirring among the Left. An emerging view holds that inequality has reached levels that are damaging not only to liberals’ sense of justice but to the economy’s stability and growth. If this narrative catches on, it could give the egalitarian Left new purchase in the national economic debate.
“Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently, and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable in the long term,” Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, writes in his new book, The Price of Inequality. “Taken to its extreme—and this is where we are now—this trend distorts a country and its economy as much as the quick and easy revenues of the extractive industry distort oil- or mineral-rich countries.”
Stiglitz’s formulation is a good two-sentence summary of the emerging macroeconomic indictment of inequality, and the two key words in his second sentence, “extreme” and “distort,” make good handles for grasping the arguments. Let’s consider them in turn.
Equality and Efficiency: The Big Trade-off was a 1975 book written by the late Arthur Okun, a Harvard University economist and pillar of the economic establishment. Okun’s title encapsulated an economic consensus: Inequality is the price America pays for a dynamic, efficient economy; we may not like it, but the alternatives are worse. As long as the bottom and the middle are moving up, there is no reason to mind if the top is moving up faster, except perhaps for an ideological grudge against the rich—what conservatives call the politics of envy.
For years, the idea that inequality, per se, is economically neutral has been the mainstream view not just among conservatives but among most Americans outside the further reaches of the political Left. There might be ideological or ethical reasons to object to a growing gap between the rich and the rest. But economic reasons? No.
“The debate for many years looked settled,” said Robert Shapiro, an economist with Sonecon, a Washington consulting firm. “Changes in the economy and changes in the data have reopened the debate.”
Economists know more today than they did in Okun’s day about the distribution of income. “There’s been enormous progress in measuring inequality—Nobel Prize-level progress,” said David Moss, an economist at Harvard Business School. As the data came in and the view got clearer, the picture that emerged was unsettling.
“In the 1990s,” Moss said, “it began to appear that income was being concentrated among the very highest earners and that stagnation was occurring not just at the low end but across most income levels.” It wasn’t just that the top was doing better than the rest, but that the very top was absorbing most of the economy’s growth. This was a more extreme and dynamic kind of inequality than the country was accustomed to.
According to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, those in the top 1 percent of households doubled their share of pretax income from 1979 to 2007; the bottom 80 percent saw their share fall. Worse, while the average income for the top 1 percent more than tripled (after inflation), the bottom 80 percent saw only feeble income growth, on the order of just 20 percent over nearly 30 years. The rising tide was raising a few boats hugely and most other boats not very much.
It thus began to seem that the old bargain, in which inequality bought rising incomes for all, had failed—much as the Keynesian bargain (bigger government, faster growth) had failed two generations earlier. “The majority of Americans have simply not been benefiting from the country’s growth,” Stiglitz wrote, overstating things—but not by a lot.

Inequality and Its Perils 

Emerging research suggests that the growing gap between rich and poor harms the U.S. economy by creating instability and suppressing growth.

At a salon dinner in Washington recently, the subject was inequality. An economist took the floor. Economic inequality, he said, is not a problem. Poverty is a problem, certainly. Unemployment, yes. Slow growth, yes. But he had never yet seen a good reason to believe that inequality, as such—the widening gap between top and bottom, as distinct from poverty or stagnation—is harmful to the economy.

Perhaps he spoke too soon.

Once in a while, a new economic narrative gives renewed strength to an old political ideology. Two generations ago, supply-side economics transformed conservatism’s case against big government from a merely ideological claim to an economic one. After decades in which Keynesians had dismissed conservatism as an economic dead end (“Hooverism”), supply-siders turned the tables. The Right could argue that reducing spending and (especially) tax rates was a matter not merely of political preference but of economic urgency.

Something potentially analogous is stirring among the Left. An emerging view holds that inequality has reached levels that are damaging not only to liberals’ sense of justice but to the economy’s stability and growth. If this narrative catches on, it could give the egalitarian Left new purchase in the national economic debate.

“Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently, and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable in the long term,” Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, writes in his new book, The Price of Inequality. “Taken to its extreme—and this is where we are now—this trend distorts a country and its economy as much as the quick and easy revenues of the extractive industry distort oil- or mineral-rich countries.”

Stiglitz’s formulation is a good two-sentence summary of the emerging macroeconomic indictment of inequality, and the two key words in his second sentence, “extreme” and “distort,” make good handles for grasping the arguments. Let’s consider them in turn.

Equality and Efficiency: The Big Trade-off was a 1975 book written by the late Arthur Okun, a Harvard University economist and pillar of the economic establishment. Okun’s title encapsulated an economic consensus: Inequality is the price America pays for a dynamic, efficient economy; we may not like it, but the alternatives are worse. As long as the bottom and the middle are moving up, there is no reason to mind if the top is moving up faster, except perhaps for an ideological grudge against the rich—what conservatives call the politics of envy.

For years, the idea that inequality, per se, is economically neutral has been the mainstream view not just among conservatives but among most Americans outside the further reaches of the political Left. There might be ideological or ethical reasons to object to a growing gap between the rich and the rest. But economic reasons? No.

“The debate for many years looked settled,” said Robert Shapiro, an economist with Sonecon, a Washington consulting firm. “Changes in the economy and changes in the data have reopened the debate.”

Economists know more today than they did in Okun’s day about the distribution of income. “There’s been enormous progress in measuring inequality—Nobel Prize-level progress,” said David Moss, an economist at Harvard Business School. As the data came in and the view got clearer, the picture that emerged was unsettling.

“In the 1990s,” Moss said, “it began to appear that income was being concentrated among the very highest earners and that stagnation was occurring not just at the low end but across most income levels.” It wasn’t just that the top was doing better than the rest, but that the very top was absorbing most of the economy’s growth. This was a more extreme and dynamic kind of inequality than the country was accustomed to.

According to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, those in the top 1 percent of households doubled their share of pretax income from 1979 to 2007; the bottom 80 percent saw their share fall. Worse, while the average income for the top 1 percent more than tripled (after inflation), the bottom 80 percent saw only feeble income growth, on the order of just 20 percent over nearly 30 years. The rising tide was raising a few boats hugely and most other boats not very much.

It thus began to seem that the old bargain, in which inequality bought rising incomes for all, had failed—much as the Keynesian bargain (bigger government, faster growth) had failed two generations earlier. “The majority of Americans have simply not been benefiting from the country’s growth,” Stiglitz wrote, overstating things—but not by a lot.

Link: Revolt of the Rich

"Secession [of the super rich] is a withdrawal into enclaves, an internal immigration, whereby the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot."

At the end of the Cold War many writers predicted the decline of the traditional nation-state. Some looked at the demise of the Soviet Union and foresaw the territorial state breaking up into statelets of different ethnic, religious, or economic compositions. This happened in the Balkans, the former Czechoslovakia, and Sudan. Others predicted a weakening of the state due to the rise of Fourth Generation warfare and the inability of national armies to adapt to it. The quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan lend credence to that theory. There have been numerous books about globalization and how it would eliminate borders. But I am unaware of a well-developed theory from that time about how the super-rich and the corporations they run would secede from the nation state.

I do not mean secession by physical withdrawal from the territory of the state, although that happens from time to time—for example, Erik Prince, who was born into a fortune, is related to the even bigger Amway fortune, and made yet another fortune as CEO of the mercenary-for-hire firm Blackwater, moved his company (renamed Xe) to the United Arab Emirates in 2011. What I mean by secession is a withdrawal into enclaves, an internal immigration, whereby the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot.

Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare?

Being in the country but not of it is what gives the contemporary American super-rich their quality of being abstracted and clueless. Perhaps that explains why Mitt Romney’s regular-guy anecdotes always seem a bit strained. I discussed this with a radio host who recounted a story about Robert Rubin, former secretary of the Treasury as well as an executive at Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup. Rubin was being chauffeured through Manhattan to reach some event whose attendees consisted of the Great and the Good such as himself. Along the way he encountered a traffic jam, and on arriving to his event—late—he complained to a city functionary with the power to look into it. “Where was the jam?” asked the functionary. Rubin, who had lived most of his life in Manhattan, a place of east-west numbered streets and north-south avenues, couldn’t tell him. The super-rich who determine our political arrangements apparently inhabit another, more refined dimension.

To some degree the rich have always secluded themselves from the gaze of the common herd; their habit for centuries has been to send their offspring to private schools. But now this habit is exacerbated by the plutocracy’s palpable animosity towards public education and public educators, as Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated. To the extent public education “reform” is popular among billionaires and their tax-exempt foundations, one suspects it is as a lever to divert the more than $500 billion dollars in annual federal, state, and local education funding into private hands—meaning themselves and their friends. What Halliburton did for U.S. Army logistics, school privatizers will do for public education. A century ago, at least we got some attractive public libraries out of Andrew Carnegie. Noblesse oblige like Carnegie’s is presently lacking among our seceding plutocracy.

Link: Bill Moyers and Chris Hedges: How Whole Regions of America Have Been Destroyed in the Name of Quarterly Profits

Hedges discusses his new book with Moyers and the totally unchecked corporate power that is destroying our democracy.

BILL MOYERS: Here we are, barely halfway through the summer, and Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have stepped up their cage match, each attacking the other, throwing insults and accusations back and forth like folding chairs hurled across the wrestling ring.

Governor Romney pummels away at the economy; President Obama pummels away at Mr. Romney—when he was or wasn’t at his company Bain Capital, his tax returns and his offshore accounts. All the while, as they bob and weave their way through this quadrennial competition, punching wildly, the real story of what’s happening to ordinary people as capitalism runs amok is largely ignored by each of them. But not in this book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt”—an unusual account of poverty and desolation across contemporary America. It’s a collaboration between graphic artist and journalist Joe Sacco, and my guest on this week’s broadcast, Chris Hedges.

CHRIS HEDGES: All of the true correctives to American democracy came through movements that never achieved formal political power.

BILL MOYERS: This is just the latest battle cry from Hedges, who, angry at what he sees in the world, expresses his outrage in thoughtful prose that never fails to inform and provoke. As a correspondent and bureau chief for “The New York Times,” he covered wars in North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East—leaving the paper after a reprimand for publicly denouncing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In such books as “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning,” his weekly column for the website “Truthdig” and freelance articles for a variety of other publications, Chris Hedges has taken his life’s experience covering the brutality of combat and shaped a worldview in which morality and faith, and the importance of truth-telling, dissent and social activism take precedence, even if it means going to jail. …

Tell me about Joe Sacco. He was your companion on this trip. And he was your, in effect, coauthor. Although he was sketching instead of writing.

CHRIS HEDGES: I’ve known Joe since the war in Bosnia. We met when he was working on his book, “Gorazde.” And I was not a reader of graphic novels. But I watched him work. And I certainly know a brilliant journalist when I see one. And he is one of the most brilliant journalists I’ve ever met.

He reports it out with such depth and integrity and power, and then he draws it out. And I realized that an extremely important component of this book was making visible these invisible communities, because we don’t see them. They’re shut out. They’re frightening, they’re depressing. And they’re virtually off the radar screen in terms of the commercial media.

BILL MOYERS: This is a tough book. It’s not dispatches from Disneyworld. It paints a very stark portrait of poverty, despair, destructive behavior. What makes you think people want to read that sort of thing these days?

CHRIS HEDGES: That wasn’t a question that Joe Sacco and I ever asked. It’s absolutely imperative that we begin to understand what unfettered, unregulated capitalism does, the violence of that system, which is portrayed in all of the places that we visited.

These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean, there are no impediments left?

CHRIS HEDGES: There’s no way to control corporate power. The system has broken down, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. And because of that, we’ve all become commodities. Just as the natural world has become a commodity that is being exploited until it is exhausted, or it collapses.

BILL MOYERS: You call them sacrifice zones.

CHRIS HEDGES: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Explain what you mean by that.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, they have the individuals who live within those areas have no power. The political system is bought off, the judicial system is bought off, the law enforcement system services the interests of power, they have been rendered powerless. You see that in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia.

Now here, in terms of national resources is one of the richest areas of the United States. And yet these harbor the poorest pockets of community, the poorest communities in the United States. Because those resources are extracted. And that money is not funneled back into the communities that are sitting on top of, or next to those resources.

Not only that, but they’re extracted in such a way that the communities themselves are destroyed quite literally because you have not only terrible problems with erosion, as they cause when they do the mountaintop removal, they’ll use these gigantic bulldozers to push off all the trees and then burn them.

And when we flew over the Appalachians, and it’s a terrifying experience, because you realize only then do you realize how vast the devastation is. Just as when we were both in the war in Bosnia, you couldn’t grasp the destruction of ethnic cleansing until you actually flew over Bosnia, and village after village after village had been razed and destroyed.

And the same was true in the Appalachian Mountains. And these people are poisoned. The water is poisoned, it smells, the soil is poisoned. And the people who are making tremendous profits from this don’t even live in West Virginia—

BILL MOYERS: You said something like, “While the laws are West Virginia are written by the coal companies, 95 percent of those coal companies—”

CHRIS HEDGES: Right.

BILL MOYERS: “—are not in West Virginia.”

CHRIS HEDGES: That’s right. They no longer want to dig down for the coal, and so they’re blowing the top 400 feet off of mountains poisoning the air, poisoning the soil, poisoning the water.

They use some of the largest machines on earth. These draglines, 25-stories tall that are very efficient in terms of ripping out coal seams. But by the time they left, there’s just a wasteland. Nothing grows. Some of the richest soil, some of the purest water, and these are the headwaters for much of the East Coast, You are rendering the area moonscape. It becomes inhabitable. And you’re destroying you know, these are the lungs of the Eastern seaboard. It’s all destroyed and it’s not coming back.

And that violence is visited on these communities. And you see it played out. I mean, Camden, New Jersey, which is the poorest city per capita in the United States and always, the one or two in terms of the most dangerous, it’s a dead city. There’s nothing left. There is no employment. Whole blocks are abandoned. The only thing functioning are open-air drug markets, of which there are about a hundred.

And you’re talking third or fourth generation of people trapped in these internal colonies. They can’t get out, they can’t get credit. And what that does to your dignity, your self-esteem, your sense of self-worth.


The Chopstick Theory
Yu Hua is a Chinese author whose first collection of essays in  English, “China in Ten Words,” was just published. This essay, like the  book (both unpublished in China), was translated by Allan Barr. This  article originally appeared in the “Los Angeles Times.”
When the young Mao Tse-tung agitated for revolution, he found a vivid  way to get his point across to an uneducated audience: He picked up a  single chopstick and snapped it in two. Then he picked up a handful of  chopsticks: They would not break. Thus he showed that so long as  everyone stood side by side, no force could withstand the tide of  revolution. By gathering together China’s scattered, indignant  chopsticks, Mao finally was able to ascend Tiananmen—the Gate of  Heavenly Peace — on Oct. 1, 1949, and announce the establishment of his  republic.
Whether chopsticks come singly or in a handful is now an  issue in China again. Mao’s successors, however, do the opposite of what  he advocated, mobilizing immense resources to keep chopsticks from  gathering together. The government knows that angry chopsticks are  everywhere, but as long as they stay scattered, it believes it can break  them in two, whatever their numbers.
Thus it is that “stability maintenance” has become a key  term in contemporary China. The government does not make public what it  spends to maintain stability, but popular estimates go as high as 600  billion yuan. As mass protests become more frequent, that figure can  only increase.
Most of these incidents are triggered by something  relatively minor. A young woman’s unexplained death in 2008 in Wengan  County, in Guizhou province, led to the burning of 160 offices, the  destruction of 40 vehicles and injuries to more than 150 people. When a  cook in the town of Shishou, in Hubei province, was found dead in 2009,  his family, rejecting police statements that it was a suicide, refused  to allow an autopsy and laid the body out in the foyer of the hotel  where the cook had worked, attracting a crowd of thousands. Many clashes  with the police followed, leaving the hotel damaged, police officers  injured and fire engines and police cars overturned. Such incidents are a  signal that China’s scattered chopsticks are angry. Sometimes all it  takes is a family dispute or an argument between neighbors to get people  venting their rage at the government.
Maintaining stability, we’re told, is more important than  anything else. Our government likes to stress the rule of law, but when  stability needs to be maintained, the law goes out the window. Now that  human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng and his family have been confined to  house arrest in their home village, many people have attempted to visit  them and express their support. But as soon as they get anywhere near  his home, they are waylaid by toughs who beat them up and steal their  wallets. “What happened to the rule of law?” people ask online. The rule  of law must be taking a vacation up in heaven, too far away to hear.
Sometimes stability maintenance reaches truly comic levels.  When the Jasmine Revolution roiled North Africa this spring, the  traditional ballad “Jasmine Flower” was banned in China. A friend of  mine who had used the song in a just-completed TV program was told to  remove it, and a substitute song about peonies got the thumbs down, too.  In the end, he learned that no song involving flowers of any  description would be permitted.
Everywhere threats are seen. When the Occupy Wall Street  movement began in the United States, our official media reported on it  with relish, thinking it had found a stick it could use to beat Western  society. But when activists called for a worldwide protest Oct. 15, some  Chinese began to contemplate occupying China’s central bank and  securities regulatory commission. The government finally realized that  protest movements in Western democracies are just as capable of  inspiring revolutionary sentiments among Chinese chopsticks as protest  movements in dictatorships. And so Occupy Wall Street, like “Jasmine  Flower” before it, was blocked on the Web and in the media.

The Chopstick Theory

Yu Hua is a Chinese author whose first collection of essays in English, “China in Ten Words,” was just published. This essay, like the book (both unpublished in China), was translated by Allan Barr. This article originally appeared in the “Los Angeles Times.”

When the young Mao Tse-tung agitated for revolution, he found a vivid way to get his point across to an uneducated audience: He picked up a single chopstick and snapped it in two. Then he picked up a handful of chopsticks: They would not break. Thus he showed that so long as everyone stood side by side, no force could withstand the tide of revolution. By gathering together China’s scattered, indignant chopsticks, Mao finally was able to ascend Tiananmen—the Gate of Heavenly Peace — on Oct. 1, 1949, and announce the establishment of his republic.

Whether chopsticks come singly or in a handful is now an issue in China again. Mao’s successors, however, do the opposite of what he advocated, mobilizing immense resources to keep chopsticks from gathering together. The government knows that angry chopsticks are everywhere, but as long as they stay scattered, it believes it can break them in two, whatever their numbers.

Thus it is that “stability maintenance” has become a key term in contemporary China. The government does not make public what it spends to maintain stability, but popular estimates go as high as 600 billion yuan. As mass protests become more frequent, that figure can only increase.

Most of these incidents are triggered by something relatively minor. A young woman’s unexplained death in 2008 in Wengan County, in Guizhou province, led to the burning of 160 offices, the destruction of 40 vehicles and injuries to more than 150 people. When a cook in the town of Shishou, in Hubei province, was found dead in 2009, his family, rejecting police statements that it was a suicide, refused to allow an autopsy and laid the body out in the foyer of the hotel where the cook had worked, attracting a crowd of thousands. Many clashes with the police followed, leaving the hotel damaged, police officers injured and fire engines and police cars overturned. Such incidents are a signal that China’s scattered chopsticks are angry. Sometimes all it takes is a family dispute or an argument between neighbors to get people venting their rage at the government.

Maintaining stability, we’re told, is more important than anything else. Our government likes to stress the rule of law, but when stability needs to be maintained, the law goes out the window. Now that human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng and his family have been confined to house arrest in their home village, many people have attempted to visit them and express their support. But as soon as they get anywhere near his home, they are waylaid by toughs who beat them up and steal their wallets. “What happened to the rule of law?” people ask online. The rule of law must be taking a vacation up in heaven, too far away to hear.

Sometimes stability maintenance reaches truly comic levels. When the Jasmine Revolution roiled North Africa this spring, the traditional ballad “Jasmine Flower” was banned in China. A friend of mine who had used the song in a just-completed TV program was told to remove it, and a substitute song about peonies got the thumbs down, too. In the end, he learned that no song involving flowers of any description would be permitted.

Everywhere threats are seen. When the Occupy Wall Street movement began in the United States, our official media reported on it with relish, thinking it had found a stick it could use to beat Western society. But when activists called for a worldwide protest Oct. 15, some Chinese began to contemplate occupying China’s central bank and securities regulatory commission. The government finally realized that protest movements in Western democracies are just as capable of inspiring revolutionary sentiments among Chinese chopsticks as protest movements in dictatorships. And so Occupy Wall Street, like “Jasmine Flower” before it, was blocked on the Web and in the media.

Link: On David Graeber’s "Debt: The First 5000 Years"

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years begins with a conversation in a London churchyard about debt and morality and takes us all the way from ancient Sumeria, through Roman slavery, the vast empires of the “Axial age”, medieval monasteries, New World conquest and slavery to the 2008 financial collapse. The breadth of material Graeber covers is extraordinarily impressive and, though anchored in the perspective of social anthropology, he also draws on economics and finance, law, history, classics, sociology and the history of ideas. I’m guessing that most of us can’t keep up and that we lack, to some degree, his erudition and multidisciplinary competence. Anyway, I do. But I hope that a Crooked Timber symposium can draw on experts and scholars from enough of these different disciplines to provide some critical perspective. My own background is in political philosophy and the history of political thought: so that naturally informs my own reactions as do my political engagements and sympathies. So mine is merely one take on some of the book’s themes.

Most people who work in the capitalist West are in debt: both individually and collectively. That indebtedness takes many forms. I have a mortgage, and I have to work to pay it off. Many of the consumer goods I enjoy are bought on credit. My students, thanks to “reforms” to the British higher education system initiated by “New Labour” and put into operation by the ConDem coalition will have massive debts that they will be seeking to redeem for their entire careers. My employer has long standing debts to the banks, underpinned by covenants that require that it carry out its business to certain standards or face unfavourable renegotiation of terms. The entire people of Greece are in debt and face, as a consequence, years of austerity and the loss of much of their political autonomy. And many other countries are in the same position. As Graeber points out near the beginning of his book, many third world countries, having been sold loans from pressurizing Western banks, loans that they can’t repay, have had to implement “austerity” and accept tough conditions imposed by international bodies, such as the IMF. Debt reflects on these recent events in historical perspective, seeking out precedents, but also giving an account of the emergence of the debt and money as social institutions and the way in which out ambivalent attitude to these is infected by the way our moral language and our folk conceptions of sociality are infected with ideas of debt, owing, repayment, obligation and the like.


V for Vendetta and the rise of Anonymous 
First published in 1982, the comic series V for Vendetta charted a masked vigilante’s attempt to bring down a fascist British government and its complicit media. The BBC asked V for Vendetta’s writer, Alan Moore, for his thoughts on how his creation had become an inspiration and identity to Anonymous.

V for Vendetta and the rise of Anonymous

First published in 1982, the comic series V for Vendetta charted a masked vigilante’s attempt to bring down a fascist British government and its complicit media. The BBC asked V for Vendetta’s writer, Alan Moore, for his thoughts on how his creation had become an inspiration and identity to Anonymous.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.

Frederick Douglass

 

Climatologist James Hansen on “Cowards in Our Democracies”
The public has the right to know who is supporting the foot soldiers for business-as-usual and to learn about the web of support for the propaganda machine that serves to keep the public addicted to fossil fuels and destroys the future of their children.

The threat of human-made climate change and the urgency of reducing fossil fuel emissions have become increasingly clear to the scientific community during the past few years. Yet, at the same time, the public seems to have become less certain about the situation. Indeed, many people have begun to wonder whether the climate threat has been concocted or exaggerated.
Public doubt about the science is not an accident. People profiting from business-as-usual fossil fuel use are waging a campaign to discredit the science. Their campaign is effective because the profiteers have learned how to manipulate democracies for their advantage.
The scientific method requires objective analysis of all data, stating evidence pro and con, before reaching conclusions. This works well, indeed is necessary, for achieving success in science. But science is now pitted in public debate against the talk-show method, which consists of selective citation of anecdotal bits that support a predetermined position.
Why is the public presented results of the scientific method and the talk-show method as if they deserved equal respect? A few decades ago that did not happen. In 1981, when I wrote a then-controversial paperabout the impact of CO2 on climate, the science writer Walter Sullivan contacted several of the top relevant scientific experts in the world for comments. He did not mislead the public by dredging up and highlighting contrarian opinion for the sake of a forced and unnatural “balance”.
Today most media, even publicly-supported media, are pressured to balance every climate story with opinions of contrarians, climate change deniers, as if they had equal scientific credibility. Media are dependent on advertising revenue of the fossil fuel industry, and in some cases are owned by people with an interest in continuing business as usual. Fossil fuel profiteers can readily find a few percent of the scientific community to serve as mouthpieces — all scientists practice skepticism, and it is not hard to find some who are out of their area of expertise, who may enjoy being in the public eye, and who are limited in scientific insight and analytic ability.

Climatologist James Hansen on “Cowards in Our Democracies”

The public has the right to know who is supporting the foot soldiers for business-as-usual and to learn about the web of support for the propaganda machine that serves to keep the public addicted to fossil fuels and destroys the future of their children.

The threat of human-made climate change and the urgency of reducing fossil fuel emissions have become increasingly clear to the scientific community during the past few years. Yet, at the same time, the public seems to have become less certain about the situation. Indeed, many people have begun to wonder whether the climate threat has been concocted or exaggerated.

Public doubt about the science is not an accident. People profiting from business-as-usual fossil fuel use are waging a campaign to discredit the science. Their campaign is effective because the profiteers have learned how to manipulate democracies for their advantage.

The scientific method requires objective analysis of all data, stating evidence pro and con, before reaching conclusions. This works well, indeed is necessary, for achieving success in science. But science is now pitted in public debate against the talk-show method, which consists of selective citation of anecdotal bits that support a predetermined position.

Why is the public presented results of the scientific method and the talk-show method as if they deserved equal respect? A few decades ago that did not happen. In 1981, when I wrote a then-controversial paperabout the impact of CO2 on climate, the science writer Walter Sullivan contacted several of the top relevant scientific experts in the world for comments. He did not mislead the public by dredging up and highlighting contrarian opinion for the sake of a forced and unnatural “balance”.

Today most media, even publicly-supported media, are pressured to balance every climate story with opinions of contrarians, climate change deniers, as if they had equal scientific credibility. Media are dependent on advertising revenue of the fossil fuel industry, and in some cases are owned by people with an interest in continuing business as usual. Fossil fuel profiteers can readily find a few percent of the scientific community to serve as mouthpieces — all scientists practice skepticism, and it is not hard to find some who are out of their area of expertise, who may enjoy being in the public eye, and who are limited in scientific insight and analytic ability.

Link: Francis Fukuyama on the Financial Crisis

FiveBooks interviews asks writers, academics, and experts to list recommended books on a given topic.

The author of “The End of History” says the financial crisis revealed a great deal about the nature of America’s political and economic system. The shame, he says, is that opportunities to change it are now being ignored

With this choice of books, are you suggesting that if people read all of them they’ll get a good sense of the financial crisis in general, or is there a specific point you’re trying to make?
The crisis is obviously a big issue in itself, but the bigger question is what it tells you about the nature of the political system and the economic system that we’re living in. This has an ongoing relevance for how we elect presidents, and what kinds of policies presidents and Congress set in the future. In particular, the crisis has pointed to some interesting aspects of the American political system. One of the really big issues, which is most forcefully raised by Simon Johnson in his book, 13 Bankers, is whether we are actually living in a kind of oligarchy of the sort we attribute to places like Russia or Kazakhstan. The direct role concentrated wealth plays in blocking needed reform then merges, in my mind, into the larger question, which is the impact of interest groups and the way that distorts the political choices that we face – a general crisis for all modern democracies.

So in a way, the financial crisis was a good thing, because it has forced us to concentrate on this issue?
Yes – while nobody wants to have a crisis, it does serve as an opportunity for reform. I would say that one of the big tragedies is that in many respects this was a completely wasted crisis. It wasn’t deep enough. No one wants a crisis on the scale of the Great Depression, but because policymakers acted quickly to put a floor under the collapse of the system, a lot of the political actors were able to shake off the implications of the crisis. That really comes through in the dissenting Republican view of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report – to pretend, in a way, that nothing actually happened that would undermine a belief in the self-regulating nature of markets.


Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% by By Joseph E. Stiglitz 
Photo: The Fat and the Furious. The top 1 percent may have the best houses, educations, and lifestyles, says the author, but “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”
Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret. 

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

 Read more.

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% by By Joseph E. Stiglitz 

Photo: The Fat and the Furious. The top 1 percent may have the best houses, educations, and lifestyles, says the author, but “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”

Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Read more.

Link: Is America a Civilised Country? A View from Europe

America is falling behind in the civilisation game. On dimensions as diverse as politics and government, criminal justice, and social mobility it is not only falling behind the dastardly Europeans, but also, surely, falling short of its own standards.

Now of course Americans may feel unfairly singled out here. On the one hand they may be offended to be compared unfavourably with ‘socialist’ Europe—to which I say, then, that you shouldn’t mind that you don’t meet our socialist standards. A better criticism is that nearly everything I want to say against America can also be said of at least some part of Europe, which is really quite a varied place. Britain for example has a similarly ossified class structure; Italy’s political theatre produces only low farce. To this I have two responses. First I’m discussing America because America matters—it is big and important and an inspiration to much of the world. So it seems more significant that America’s politics are increasingly plutocratic than that little Bulgaria is mafia ridden all the way to the top. Second is what I think is the key difference between Europe and America these days: we still believe in progress, in trying to produce a better civilisation, America seems to have given up. 

Link: Perceptions of Freedom: Geographies of Urban Protest

One phenomenon that the Occupy Wall Street movement has crystallized in remarkable fashion is the unapologetic negotiation of the physical occupation of urban space. But before considering the context within which OWS has been operating, and what its successes and challenges may be, it is instructive to look into the deeper history of public space in New York. While some observers have examined how the spatial reality of the city, as presently constituted, influences the ability of its citizens to assemble and, implicitly, protest, I would submit that said spatial reality is really a symptom of not just physical geography, but also the landscape of legal precedents, political negotiations and accretions. This is an enormous – and enormously interesting – topic, so I will attempt to limit my remarks to the history of New York as seen through its street grid, its negotiation of what appear to be rights, and the intersection of political and commercial reality.

Thus it is a timely coincidence that 2011 marks the anniversary of the original “grid” plan, as conceived by the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. Prior to its adoption by New York, street-grid planning had already had a long history – consider, among others, Francisco Pizarro’s original plan for Lima, Peru, conceived in the mid-16th century. The grid was seen by planners as an attractive alternative to the messy results of “organic” growth, that is, growth that lead to narrow alleys, winding streets and tortuous property claims. Such bottom-up density also made the broader provision of services difficult, and seemed to encourage the spread of disease and crime. Thus an authoritative master plan was the perfect means to sweep away the accumulated social and economic flotsam and jetsam that came with the decades of  thousands of citizens scrapping and scraping for economic survival/prosperity over decades. (This tendency to overly treasure the act of tabula rasa continues to manifest itself today, most frequently as usually disastrous slum clearances in the cities of the developing world).

However, these same planners were confronted with a dilemma: by creating cleaner city layouts, the same designs that encourage mobility, commerce and interaction may, at the same time, encourage unwanted assembly, whereby citizens congregate in order to air grievances, hold strikes and generally foment the kind of unrest that might bring down a government. It is one thing to be all in favour of freedom of assembly or expression, but quite another to embody those rights within the built environment itself, no matter (or especially) what UNESCO might hold dear.