Not yet, Mr. Wright

Well, Mr Wright, what would you do with the city of Detroit?

“Abandon It”

But not yet:

In the Capital of the Car, Nature Stakes a Claim
Published: December 4, 2003
PAUL WEERTZ lives less than 10 minutes from downtown, but the view from his window is anything but urban. On a warm day this fall, the air was ripe with the smell of fresh-cut hay and manure. In the alley behind his house, bales of hay teetered and listed where garbage cans once stood. Chickens scratched in the yard, near a garage that had been turned into a barn. Mr. Weertz drives a Ford — not a sleek sedan but a rebuilt 1960 tractor.

”My sisters and brothers gave me a pig for my birthday,” Mr. Weertz said, referring to his newest barnyard resident. ”I am not sure what I am going to do with it.”

After decades of blight, large swathes of Detroit are being reclaimed by nature. Roughly a third of this 139-square-mile city consists of weed-choked lots and dilapidated buildings. Satellite images show an urban core giving way to an urban prairie.

Not yet, Mr. Wright

The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention

Tim Lee makes a couple of points about what he sees as the puzzling connections between free trade and protectionism, and he stumbles across the point I’d made earlier to one of Jerry Brito’s comments, (yes, the comment that Jerry can’t respond to, and therefore must censor) It’s a simple point that Karl Polanyi made in his excellent book The Great Transformation: that the self-regulating market requires state intervention, both for it’s creation and for its maintenance . So the creation of a self regulating market in copyrighted goods requires state intervention to create and maintain that market. But Tim, being a libertarian, can’t read or understand Polanyi, so he’s confused about why those who support free trade also support certain market interventions:

This is a fascinating question. One of the things I find really interesting about the 19th century political debate is that the opposing political coalitions were more sensibly aligned, perhaps because people had a slightly clearer sense of what was at stake. My impression (which may be wrong in its details) is that the free traders tended to be liberals and economic populists. They clearly understood that protectionism brought about a transfer of wealth from relatively poor consumers to relatively wealthy business interests. In the opposing coalition were a coalition of business interests and xenophobes making fundamentally mercantilist arguments about economic nationalism.


Karl Polanyi covers this period in his book The Great Transformation. His perspective is a little different.

First, Polanyi notes that those opposing the liberal agenda there were the defenders of the old order, ultimately derived from the feudal social structure, as well the working urban proletariat. Their interests never coincided and their visions of an alternative to the dominant liberal creed were so very different, it is not surprising that they never formed a united opposition. It is true that once the middle class realized that free trade meant cheaper food they were temporarily won over to its cause. But there were a few others who realized how disastrous free trade would be in the long run.

Second, Tim Lee, as all libertarians do, makes a whole series of informational exclusions about what comes along with liberalism. For example, it cannot be an accident that Great Britain, during the time of the ascendancy of liberal ideals, also maintained a very large colonial empire. Ultimately, adherence to the dogma of the self-regulating market requires state intervention to ensure that the prices of labor, land, and money are all controlled only by economic factors internal to that self-regulating market. When social, environmental, religious or national policies interfere with the operating of that self regulating market, state intervention is required. Case in point: US invasion of Iraq. When political ideals interfere with the functioning of the self-regulating market, state intervention is also called for by supporters of the market. Case in point: the DMCA. From this view, the fact that those who support the self-regulating market also support strong imposed patent, copyright and trademark laws is entirely consistent and unsurprising.


The bottom line is: you cannot separate the economic functioning of society from its broader social, political, environmental, national and social contexts, as liberals are wont to do. Human society just cannot be distilled into neatly separate fungible categories. They are all connected. Failure to come to grips with this reality is why libertarianism can only be maintained by making excluding whole categories of information.

Thus the following confusion on Tim’s part:

Today’s free trade debate is much weirder, because there are enough businesses who want to export things that significant parts of the business community are for freer trade. On the other hand, the liberals who fancy themselves defenders of relatively poor consumers find themselves in bed with predatory industries like sugar and stell that have been using trade barriers to gouge consumers. And the “trade” debate has increasingly come to be focused on issues that don’t actually have much to do with trade, whether it’s labor and environmental “standards,” copyright and patent requirements, working retraining programs, cross-border subsidies, etc.

Continue reading “The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention”

The Self-Regulating Market requires state intervention

Journey to the End of the Night (Seadrome Edition)


Looking through the overstock of my Grandfather’s bookstore, I have quite a number of Architectural Magazines, including many editions of “The American Architect,” “The Architectural Forum” (which actually covered Architecture, unlike today’s Architectural Forum, which almost no Architects read) and “The International Studio.” They cover the period from from the early teens to the late Thirties, but most fall between 1928 and 1934.

From the December 1930 edition of “The American Architect” there is an interesting article about Seadromes. Of course, no one today knows what a Seadrome is because they were never built, so this article is just about the only source I am aware of. There isn’t even an entry on Wikipedia. (Although there is a paragraph about them in the entry for Edward Robert Armstrong, the Engineer who had conceptualized and advocated the Seadrome concept.)

Continue reading “Journey to the End of the Night (Seadrome Edition)”

Journey to the End of the Night (Seadrome Edition)

Journey to the End of the Night (Lynd Ward Edition)


As I may have mentioned, my Grandfather had a bookstore near Taylor and Olive in Saint Louis back in the 1930’s which, like many other enterprises of that time, went bust during the 1930’s. So I have seen quite a bit of his stock, almost none of which had been sold after the store closed. One really curious collection of illustrated books interested me, just for being so odd, and especially unlike any of the other old books which were in his stock. I used the term illustrated book, but that’s really an understatement, as the content of these books consists solely of illustrations, without any text whatsoever to interfere with the emotive power of the pictures.

Continue reading “Journey to the End of the Night (Lynd Ward Edition)”

Journey to the End of the Night (Lynd Ward Edition)

Journey to the End of the Night (H.G. Wells edition)



A project that I have long wanted very much to do is to write a history of the Future, especially, a history of the Future as seen in popular culture. Certainly a society’s view of its future tells what it values, and what it fears. If the positive outweigh the negatives, then we have futures such as is seen in Star Trek. When the negatives outweigh the positives, we have distopias, such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, George Orwell’s 1984, the Mad Max movies, Brave New World, or works such as Philip Dick’s Blade Runner or The Lathe of Heaven. In each of these distopian visions though, society fails in different ways.


The failure modes are each different and therefore informative. Sometimes these distopias actually do seem to predict the future, or at least a little piece of it. It is telling that it is very easy to think of many distopian futures, but rather difficult to think of utopian ones. It is clear that we are more interested in our possible failures.

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Journey to the End of the Night (H.G. Wells edition)

Journey to the End of the Night (Hugh Ferriss edition)

News Building
Hugh Ferriss‘ renderings, at their best, are some of the most evocative examples of American art of the previous century. His renderings were at once broadly and lastingly influential (just look at the set design of Batman or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow for proof of this) However, for all their timelessness, they also captured the unique aesthetic spirit of an age. For all the influence he had, one would think everyone would know who Hugh Ferriss was.

The setting of his best renderings is night, but not just any night. It is a night where his buildings radiate light and life, and that’s because something is happening in them. Sometimes, the night is glamorous and his buildings are beacons of light. Other times, the night has become menacing and heavier, but the buildings still radiate light, and are shelters from that night. This often results in a very layered space, similar to Piranesi, in which bright objects in the distance are pushing dark objects in the foreground out towards the viewer.

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Journey to the End of the Night (Hugh Ferriss edition)