Urban economics

In reply to my post yesterday about The Atlas of Cities, Jonathan Davies suggested it was time for a list of books on urban economics. Se here’s a starter list. Other suggestions welcome.

1. The best of the most recent, Ed Glaeser’s The Triumph of the City. There’s also his Cities, Agglomeration and Spatial Equilibrium on the basic economics of it.

2. The classics by Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, The Economy of Cities.

3. Some history: Tristram Hunt’s Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City and his latest (which I’ve not yet read) Ten Cities that Made an Empire.

4. Edge City, Joel Garreau, about the economics of suburbs.

5. The Rise of the Creative Class, Rich Florida (beloved by local governments everywhere)

6. Planet of Slums by Mike Davis

7. Owen Hatherley’s two marvellous extended rants about Britain’s urban landscapes, A Guide to The New Ruins of Great Britain and A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through Urban Britain.

8. Edgelands by Michael Roberts and Paul Farley the wilderness spaces that spread into towns and cities.

9. Another Classic, Lewis Mumford, The City in History.

10. Estates by Lynsey Hanley.

11. Reinventing London by Bridget Rosewell.

12. The key textbook, The Spatial Economy, Fujita, Krugman and Venables.

That’s a start – no doubt there are loads more.

Update: other titles suggested by Andrew Curry and Ami Shah, & my thanks to them. I don’t know all of these books, as they’re mainly not by economists.

Saskia Sassen, The Global City
John Reader, Cities
Stephen Graham, Cities Under Siege
David Harvey, Rebel Cities and Social Justice and the City
Herbert Girardet, Cities People Planet
Radical Cities by Justin McGuirk, and

Peter Hall/Manuel Castells, Technopoles of the World

Later update: further titles via Twitter today are:

Anna Minton Ground Control

Edward Soja

Louis Wirth

Herbert Gans

Please keep the suggestions coming!


Beautiful cities

Oh joy. The Atlas of Cities edited by Paul Knox has arrived in the post. It’s a series of essays with titles such as ‘The Industrial City’, ‘The Imperial City’, ‘The Green City’, ‘The Networked City’. Each has a ‘core’ city or two covered, and some secondary ones. For instance, for the Industrial City, Manchester is the main event, with appearances from Berlin, Chicago, Detroit, Sheffield, Glasgow and Dusseldorf. It’s also an absolutely beautifully produced book, with maps, pictures, infographics. It looks a complete treat.


Economics, order and murder

At the moment I’m alternating between intense reading of books and papers for my new course, and fun stuff, while saving the really light reading for a few days’ holiday later this month. So the advance copy of The Mystery of the Invisible Hand by Marshall Jevons arrived at the perfect moment, and it’s a very enjoyable romp – campus novel meets detective novel meets economics primer. Nobel Prize winning economist Henry Spearman uses economic logic alone to solve a murder, the power of the little grey cells amplified by the muscular rigour of economics.

Marshall Jevons is, needless to say, a pseudonym, and this is the third in the series, following on from A Deadly Indifference and Murder at the Margin.

There are many nice touches. I liked the fact that the classroom building is called Hamermesh Hall. I *loved* this quotation from Carl Christ at the head of one chapter: “I have heard an unkind critic say that an economist is someone who would sell his grandmother. This is quite wrong. An economist, or at least a good economist, would not sell his grandmother to the highest bidder unless the highest bid was enough to compensate him for the loss of his grandmother.”

As a way to bring some basic economic concepts to life for students, this is an excellent series, although of course not Great Literature. Russ Roberts’ novels, The Price of Everything and The Invisible Heart, are similarly both enjoyable and educational. (He, by the way, has a terrific new book out, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.)

As I’ve long argued, economists are particularly amenable to two strands of genre fiction, detective and sci-fi novels. The ur-models of rational homo economicus are Hercule Poirot (or perhaps Sherlock Holmes) and Mr Spock, logical, calculating, and totally brilliant naturally. Paul Krugman was famously inspired to become an economist by reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

I’m a detective fiction person myself – economists have that same impulse as the writers of these books, I think, namely to bring some order to a disordered world.

Clash of the titans

John Kay’s column in the Financial Times (Authors should back Amazon in dispute with Hachette) today criticises the authors who have written a letter to Amazon siding with Hachette (and potentially other big publishers) in their dispute over e-book terms. The authors wrote: “Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage.”

John says in effect that the authors are naive, and that the big publishing conglomerates are not serving writers (or readers) well: “The large conglomerates that have come to dominate publishing are run by people who love money more than they love books. These support activities have been cut back in the interest of maximising the revenue, from control of access to distribution. Today’s bestseller lists are filled with imitations of books that have already been successful; footballer’s memoirs, celebrity chefs, vampires and female-oriented erotic literature.”

He’s forgotten the crossover categories in this list – the chefs’ memoirs, sporting cookbooks, and vampire-oriented erotic literature – but the point is clear. However, although I agree that one should have no sympathy for Mega-Publisher Corp Inc, I am not as sanguine as he appears to be here about Amazon’s market power. The Amazon-Hachette dispute is a good old-fashioned clash of the titans as they fight over the distribution of producer surplus, and it’s hard to see obvious benefit for writers and readers either way.

Actually, I think the publishing business has responded to new technologies in a far nimbler and more innovative way than the music industry did, in contrast to John’s argument. But the innovation is largely coming from outside the Mega-Publishers and is at the mercy of Amazon for distribution. Amazon does not treat small fry benignly, as Brad Stone’s The Everything Store describes.

There are some unanswered questions about the Amazon-Hachette dispute. Here are  Amazon’s and Hachette’s own statements, and here are some very good questions from Joshua Gans, who is the go-to economist on this issue.

I should add, as always when writing about Amazon, that the links on here go to Amazon because of the associates programme, which covers for me the marginal cost of the blog. If another retailer would introduce a similar programme, I’d switch.

The education of an economist

In the Financial Times this morning Deirdre McCloskey has a tantalising curtain-raiser for her forthcoming book, Bourgeois Equality: How Betterment Became Ethical, 1600-1848, and Then Suspect. Her argument is that it isn’t the accumulation of capital but rather innovation that is the engine of wealth, collective and individual:

“Taxing the rich, or capital, does not help the poor. It can throw a spanner into the mightiest engine for lifting up those below us, arising from a new equality, not of material worth but of liberty and dignity. Gini coefficients are not what matter; the Great Enrichment is.”

McCloskey has been on an anti-Piketty tour – see for example this by Evan Davis in The Spectator, and McCloskey herself speaking recently to the IEA. It’s intriguing that two of the economists most admired by progressive, anti-free-market, reforming economics people – McCloskey and Piketty – are in such disagreement.

The forthcoming book is the final volume in McCloskey’s trilogy, The Bourgeois Era, preceded by Vols 1 The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce and 2 Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (I reviewed the latter for the New Statesman.)

Occasionally I might disagree with Prof McCloskey, but I love her books. One of my all-time favourites is How to Be Human (though an economist) and of course her book with Stephen Zilliak, The Cult of Statistical Significance: How the Standard Error Costs Us Jobs, Justice, and Lives.


I love even more the reading lists for her courses. Just look at the instructions for Economics 326: The History of Economic Thought, 2006, for example, or the graduate seminar Economics 263, or Economics for Humanists. It’s clear one would have to really work, but who wouldn’t want to be taught economics like this?