When I wrote my “anti-Trump polemic” early this year I thought I was writing about politics.
It turns out I was writing an economics book.
I learned this while reading a biography of the late Jane Jacobs, best known for her fight against the “urban renewal” of Robert Moses. After that fight Jacobs moved to Toronto, becoming one of Canada’s most beloved intellectuals, and there she wrote an economics history book, Cities and the Wealth of Nations.
In this book Jacobs identified cities, rather than farms, as the original source of wealth. It was cities that turned wheat into bread and beer. It is cities that transform everything.
True, as far as it goes. But how and why remained a mystery to Jacobs. The nature of money eluded her. It’s something my recent book explains by looking at American history and seeking what I first saw as political patterns in our national life, and later concluded were economic patterns.
The answers, in our time, strike at the nature of money, the nature of man, and why, even after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there remain people like John Stossel who continue to deny the reality of man-made climate change.
Wealth, it turns out, is entirely man-made. This is more controversial than it seems. Politicians have always believed wealth to be a product of holding land, or of exploiting it. They see history as great men moving lesser men around like pawns on a chessboard. Social historians, by contrast, focus on the real lives of ordinary people. These are important, but they are no more relevant to economic history than land is.