1. The politics of “now” and the fall of the world’s governing soccer body David Runciman, London Review of Books
  2. Nineteenth-century rappers, Corn Laws, and the rise of free trade Greg Rosalsky, JSTOR Daily
  3. Avocados and tamales: language lessons Joyce Bartholomae, Coldnoon
  4. North Korea’s ice-cream-colored totalitarianism Lena Schipper, 1843

Cities in capitalism are more beautiful

The other day I wrote about some of the reasons why I love capitalism. One of them is that cities in capitalism are more beautiful. I am convinced of this when I think about some cities I am more familiar with, including their geography and history.

Most foreigners I know have difficulty to answering correctly, when asked, “What is Brazil’s national capital?”. Most people answer Rio de Janeiro, but it is actually Brasilia. Many people say that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but I am very inclined to say that this is not so. I am still not 100% sure about this, but I believe that there is something objective about beauty. Maybe it is not something so strict, like a point. Maybe it is something broader, like an area. But still, I am inclined to say that there is something objective about it. At least for me, Brasilia is one of the ugliest cities conceivable. I am really glad to say that. Its architecture was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa. Growing up in Brazil, questioning that Niemeyer was a genius is almost anathema, almost like saying that Maradona was better than Pelé or that Ayrton Senna was not the best Formula One pilot ever. Because of that, I was always happy to say that Niemeyer’s buildings are among the ugliest things on the surface of this planet. It was like shouting that the king is naked.

Brasilia is very beautiful from the sky. Its shape resembles an airplane or a cross. But that is the problem: the city is beautiful from heaven, but not for the people walking in it. It was made for God to see from up there. But, as Niemeyer was a convinced atheist, I am not sure who is watching his creation. My guess is that Niemeyer thought that he was a god. A very mean god, who didn’t care about people having to spend lots of time in cars driving long distances.

Niemeyer was also related, with Lucio Costa, to Barra da Tijuca, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro where I spent lots of time growing up. Lucio Costa, as far as I’m concerned, was not a communist. I believe he was closely connected to the Brazilian version of positivism. Because positivism and communism are basically the same, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Barra da Tijuca is very similar to Brasilia: very beautiful if looked at from the sky, but very unpleasant for the pedestrian. Very long distances to walk. Cars are mandatory.

The most pleasant neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro are the result of spontaneous order. As Hayek noticed, spontaneous order is one of the central features of capitalism. People usually contrasted between planned economies (such as the USSR) and unplanned economies (such as the US in some moment of its history). But Hayek observed that all economies are planned. Some are centrally planned. Others are planned by several individuals who are not following a specific central plan.

I am convinced that cities that follow no plan, or a very simple plan, are more beautiful than cities that follow a very specific central plan. New York, as far as I know, followed a simple plan, a grid. But other than that, there was a lot of freedom in the use of the space for much of its history. It’s a city that I just love. I am more comfortable talking about Rio de Janeiro. It is a city that was at its best before modern architecture, positivism, socialism, Developmentalism, and other isms. It was better when Brazil had a little more classical liberalism.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Dr Khawaja is back in Palestine for the summer
  2. The nation-state is making a global comeback
  3. Nationalism isn’t replacing globalism
  4. Can Multiculturalism Be Exported? Dilemmas of Diversity on Nigeria’s “Sesame Square” (pdf)
  5. The West’s biggest statue: a tall tale

My New Book

Don’t think I’ve mentioned my book on the history of Pasadena-based Charles Pankow Builders, a “design-builder” of many commercial buildings, mostly in LA, SF, and Honolulu, including the MTA tower at Union Station; it is forthcoming from Purdue University Press in January. It combines a study of entrepreneurship and best practices in construction. Check out its page in the Purdue UP catalog.

It’s gotten some good advance praise by industry leaders, as you can see from its Amazon page.

Of closer interest, perhaps, to this group, I also have an essay (Chapter 4: see TOC) on Columbia “money doctor” Carl Shoup’s financial missions to Cuba (in the 1930s) in “The Political Economy of  Transnational Tax Reform: The Shoup Mission to Japan in Historical Context,” forthcoming in March 2013 from Cambridge UP.

I’ve now cracked open Why Nations Fail. . . . Will get back to you as I make progress.