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“Is shopping a recipe for the city?” (Wade Graham, DREAM CITIES, 2016)

From a generally very interesting chapter on Idea 6, Malls, in Wade Graham’s Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World (a book on architecture and urban forms):

If the world is becoming a mall, has shopping become the driver of urban form? In most educated circles this suggestion elicits a [pg]196[/pg] collective shudder. Shopping is sub-serious, as Cicero insisted: All retail dealing may be described as dishonest and base.[1] Architecture, always zealous in defense of its claim to be a high art, wants nothing to do with it. Except, on rare occasions, to pay the bills. Louis Sullivan did a department store, Frank Lloyd Wright a boutique, Rudolf Schindler a store or two, and I. M. Pei’s first major project was a mall, but these are rarely mentioned along with their canonical masterpieces. And yet a case can be made that shopping, in the form of trade, gave birth to the city, that shopping has been and remains the lifeblood coursing through its heart, that the design of shopping is inseparable from the design of cities since time immemorial and is an indispensable guide to the urban future.

The largest neolithic settlement known, Çatalhöyük in Turkey, was founded in 7000 BCE, probably as a trading center.[2] The market at the center of Thebes has been dated to 1500 BCE. The Greek agora, or gathering place, the acknowledged birthplace of Western civilization and democratic society, was both a marketplace for shopping and a civic center for discussion, sociality, and politics. The Greek words for I shop and I speak in public are both derived from the same root; in modern Greek agora still means marketplace. The agora became the Roman forum, the medieval fair and market town, the Eastern bazaar and souk. Is shopping a recipe for the city? Consider the evidence. In the exchange of goods is gathering, and in gathering is society; meeting, trading information, gossiping, haggling, freedom of movement for women, and people-watching — the original theater is the theater of customers as participants in a perennial ritual and unpredictable drama. Done right, shopping can define space in ways that are fundamentally urban: the shopping space is a space apart, inside, separate from other distracting activities, and essentially pedestrian, but also connected to the outside. [pg]197[/pg] Shopping generates movement and density; it mixes and connects people, and disconnected or disparate parts of the city. If this is the case, then maximizing shopping equals maximizing urbanism. . . .

. . . [pg]236[/pg] We can only hope that shopping design’s evolution toward more inclusion and integration continues. Regardless, as long as it is profitable, it will continue to be a major contributor to the environments we inhabit, as it has been for centuries, if not more. Time will tell. In an essay on the firm’s influence, the L.A. architect and critic Craig Hodgetts asked whether Jerde’s artificial cosmos may, in time, attain the dignity of the truly cosmopolitan… with the scars and patina of age. Yet age and familiarity are not what make a place truly urban, but its integration into the fabric of the city around it. The question is then, will Jerde’s places become, as some previous forms of shopping architecture have, public places as much as private ones–places integral to urban vitality?

— Wade Graham, #6. Malls.
In Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World (2016).

See also:

  1. [1][Sordidi etiam putandi, qui mercantur a mercatoribus, quod statim vendant…. Cic., De officiis i. 150, here lightly paraphrased by the translator that Graham quotes. More literally: And again — they are to be reckoned sordid, who buy from merchants what they turn around and sell. In the passage, Cicero is listing off a series of working-class trades and lines of business that we (Roman noblemen) understand to be sordid (dirty) or illiberal (unfit for or unbecoming of a free gentleman) — among them toll-taking, money-lending, all hired work that is purchased for labor rather than for artistic or skillful quality, buying from merchants to resell, manufacturing in a workshop, and trades that minister to immediate enjoyment, like fishing and fish-selling, butchery, cooking, poultry-stuffing, cosmetics, dancing and performing in variety shows. –RG.]
  2. [2][This is contested; some confidently assert it was founded for trade, some assert just as confidently that all the evidence now points to it being founded as a religious center, etc. etc. –RG.]

What I’m Reading: Lefts’ Party Like It’s 2014

  1. [1][18-Jun-2020: Formerly moral painc; typographical error corrected. –RG]

Market-Women and the Revolutionary Market-Place (Gold Coast/Ghana, 1947-1948)

From C.L.R. James, Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977/1982):

Chapter 3. The People in 1947.

. . . There was yet another social feature of Gold Coast life, which was specifically African and was to prove of enormous importance to the revolution. For the great mass of the common people the centre of African life has always been the market. The Ewe week consisted of four days, the day before market day, market day, the day after market day, and stay at home day. The traders for generations have been the women (Nkrumah’s mother was a petty trader), and this function has been maintained and developed until today a large proportion of the retail distribution of goods, and the main channel through which the distribution of commodities flows from the big wholesale importers to the private home is the market, in small villages as well as in the big towns such as Accra and Kumasi. Thus in Accra there are thousands of women in action in the market, meeting tens of thousands of their fellow citizens every day. European visitors and officials up to 1947 saw in these markets a primitive and quaint survival in the modern towns. In reality here was, ready formed, a social organisation of immense power, radiating from the centre into every corner and room of the town. [p. 56] Instead of being confined to cooking and washing for their husbands, the market-women met every day, dealing with the European and Syrian traders on the one hand and their masses of fellow citizens on the other. The market was a great centre of gossip, of news and of discussion. Where in many undeveloped communities the women are a drag upon their men-folk, these women, although to a large extent illiterate, were a dynamic element in the population, active, well-informed, acute, and always at the very centre of events.

Chapter 7. Positive Action.

. . . [p. 130] In cold blood, writing from documents and information, I find it hard to believe that Nkrumah expected the government to capitulate before the general strike. At best it could be the beginning of a new series of negotiations. At worst, the people might, without or with provocation, lose their control. There would be a horrible massacre. There was another by no means remote possibility. The people might, by the usual combination of force and persuasion, win over the local government forces and repossess themselves of their country and of themselves by force. They were perfectly able to do it.

There were other possibilities. There is no need to go into them. It is enough to understand that we are here in the presence of imponderables. With this objective before them and the people behind them, these young men, now at the climax of a long preparation, did not flinch. They threw down the challenge.

The party had taken no chances. The people were well prepared and knew what they were doing. During December they had been warned, sometimes from the public platform by Nkrumah himself, that they were to save their money and not spend it in Christmas festivities so as to be ready to endure the privations of the coming strike. The cooks of the Europeans found it difficult to buy food in the markets because the market-women were reserving the food [p. 131] for the strike days.

It may seem strange to the Western reader that the party seemed to be able to call a monster meeting at such short notice. The party propaganda vans would tour the city calling the people to the Arena. The market-women could get out thousands of people at the shortest possible notice, and Nkrumah’s often-repeated statement, the market-women made the party, conveys one of the great truths of the revolution. Here (and in many other places), we get curious reminders and indications of politics in that most political of social formations, the Greek city-state. In his speech on the crown, Demosthenes in an enigmatic passage describes how, at the news that Elatea had been taken, the high officials of the assembly went into the market, drove out the people and set fire to the wicker stalls while trumpeters summoned the population to the assembly. This was done from above and it was the last days of the democracy. The market-women in the first days of Gold Coast democracy did it from below.

— Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution, 55-56; 130-131.
C.L.R. James, 1977.

See also.

Rad Geek, to-day:

Planet Money #381: When Business Loves Regulation

Shared Article from NPR.org

Episode 381: When Business Loves Regulation

One in three American jobs require a license. Today on the show, why those licensing rules hurt the U.S. economy.

Jacob Goldstein @ npr.org


The problem is not freed markets; the problem is what Molinari described as owned markets. Owned not because the owners bought them, or won them in competition; but rather through the proprietors’ exploitation of the political process of state regulation.

Sartwell, the Principle of Hierarchical Coincidence and Actually-Existing Socialism

Crispin Sartwell has a great new article recently at Splice, on “The Newnew Left and the Principle of Hierarchical Coincidence.” Quoth he:

The classical socialism of people like Corbyn and Sanders had been developed, in detail, by the middle of the 19th century. It was designed as a response to the rise of rapacious industrial capitalism, and it specifically proposed to rein in capital by vast expansions of state power, or the annexation of more and more resources, powers, segments of the culture by government.. . . The concrete proposals amount to increased state control of many or even all segments of human life, from cradle to grave.

I think you??re going to need some new ideas, because there??s one breathtaking theoretical and practical problem with classical socialism. It proceeds in massive unawareness of a fundamental principle in political theory and political reality, which I call the principle of hierarchical coincidence (PHC): the idea that, in more or less every case and in the long run, political and economic hierarchies tend to coincide. Economic power leads to political power; political power leads to economic power.

. . . For this reason, and for the most part and in the long run, ever-increasing state power as recommended in socialism will tend to increase rather than ameliorate economic inequality. And though governments do sometimes and to some extent reduce economic inequality, they do so in a situation in which the seemingly intractable political/economic structure is largely produced, held in place, and enforced by these governments themselves. The structure of economic inequality rests to a large extent on political and police power, and certainly couldn??t be maintained without it.

This is the incoherence at the heart of classical socialism: that intensifying political power, at least of a certain kind, will in the long run reduce economic inequality. But if you start nationalizing or socializing various segments of the economy??that is, if you give these powers to the state–you don??t move toward an egalitarian paradise, you simply create a new ascendant class. . . .

–Crispin Sartwell, The Newnew Left and the Principle of Hierarchical Coincidence
SpliceToday, 13 June 2017.

Read the whole thing.

Shared Article from SpliceToday

The Newnew Left and the Principle of Hierarchical Coincidence

There??s one breathtaking theoretical and practical problem with classical socialism.

Crispin Sartwell @ splicetoday.com


What I want to add here some responses to the pat rejoinders that I think are most likely to get thrown out quickly in response to the problem Sartwell raises, but which are really idle as objections to Sartwell’s point.

First, it is entirely idle to point out that state socialism is intended to combat hierarchical coincidence, and if only it could be properly politically implemented, it would tend to reduce inequality more and more and hence more and more make the problem evaporate rather than stabilizing or spiraling out of control. Whatever its theoretical intent, the effect in actually-existing state socialism is entirely different.

If there were some way to implement state socialist programs exactly to the ideological socialist’s specification, without serious political complication, bureaucratic redirection and mission creep, or unintended consequences, then sure, we’d have to hash out whether the total effects of the system tend to reinforce or to weaken the problem of hierarchical coincidence, on net, over short-term and long-term time spans. But there is no such way.[1]

Second, there’s a lesson which many socialists today might take from a point like Sartwell’s, which does represent some progress, but which really goes a lot less far than they might think. In particular, it’s really easy to look at Sartwell’s discussion of the problems posed by increased state economic control, and conclude that the easy solution to the problem is to become an anarchistic socialist, instead of a state socialist. No state, no state power to back up economic power. And of course I’d hardly want to ward anyone off of anarchistic socialism — since that is, after all, what I believe in some forms.

But if you think of the structure of a socialistic anarchy as combating inequality with more or less the same sorts of socialization and collectivization proposed by state socialists — just in the hands of grassroots collectives, administered locally and democratically without state power by the same people who work in them — then I would argue that you have not eliminated the problem of hierarchical coincidence by eliminating the state police power, or by moving from electoral power to social capital as your means of administering the distribution of economic resources. Because, of course, there are such things as hierarchies of social power and prestige, even outside of state structures. Substituting social capital for political power brings some obvious benefits, because political power involves greater institutionalization, more formalized excuses for legitimacy, literally lethal repertoires of force to exert, etc. But the ability to wield social power within collectivized economic institutions, and so to continuously reinforce economic and social power, does not easily disappear even with the removal of the state. It becomes easier to combat; and maybe an easier fight is the best we can realistically hope for. But maybe, on the other hand, the goal should be to make sure that realistic alternatives to existing collective entities, dissent, exit, open competition, and other routes for centrifugal economic and social forces to dynamically express themselves, are firmly incorporated into our economic activities and our socio-economic institutions.

  1. [1]You might say, “but the lack of immaculate conception is a problem for any duty proposing serious changes to the political system — including libertarianism, including market anarchism, including everything.” And you’d be right. It’s a really serious problem for any form of reformist libertarianism, and a major explanation for why it often degrades into standard right-wing business regulation politics. Anarchism doesn’t eliminate the problem; but it ameliorates it, precisely to the extent that the anarchist deliberately breaks from political strategies that open up the largest opportunities for political complication, bureaucratic redirection and mission creep, or unintended consequences. But if solving the problem were easy, revolution would be easy, and it’s no surprise that it isn’t.
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