Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two forms of capitalism

"In the course of the competitive struggle that set the one against the other, the Venetian and Genoese regimes of accumulation developed along divergent trajectories, which in the 15th century crystallized into two opposite forms of capitalist organization. Venice came to configure the prototype of 'state (monopoly) capitalism,' whereas Genoa came to constitute the prototype of 'cosmopolitan (finance) capitalism.' The ever-changing combination and opposition of these two forms and, above all, their ever-increasing scale and complexity, constitute the central aspect of the evolution of historical capitalism as a world system." - Giovanni Arrighi
The current conflict between Western-dominated financial capitalism and its nationalist-mercantilist rivals is not really new, even if it's different. History suggests that each system provides a limit to the other, and also encounters (or gives rise to) its own unique problems. The political infantilism of today's nationalist-mercantilist states could be one. Unfortunately, the US shows signs of falling in with this new order, at least to the extent of forcing cosmopolitan capitalism to find new bases of operation.
(The shortened quote is from The Long Twentieth Century, Verso, 2010, page 153.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Postmodern hyperspace

"Managers of the global corporations are seeking to put into practice a theory of human organization that will profoundly alter the nation-state system around which society has been organized for over 400 years. What they are demanding in essence is the right to transcend the nation-state, and in the process, to transform it." - Richard Barnet and Ronald Miller
I read this quote in Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century (Verso, 2010). The term postmodern hyperspace is from Frederic Jameson. As Arrighi explains, it refers to the parallel systems that global capitalism creates in the midst of nation-states. This isn't new, he notes, citing the trade fairs of the Middle Ages, which undermined Medieval institutions, and Genoa's control of commerce at the zenith of Spanish imperial power. It made me think of Google's dispute with China. This is being discussed in terms of the freedom of access implied by the Internet, but it may actually be the latest example of "friction" between parallel systems. (The quote appears on page 82.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

China envy

"One of the reasons China is so successful is that Aaron Peskin isn't there. They're far more capitalist than we are these days. They want to get things done. Here, things don't happen." - Jeffrey Heller
In the early fall, I spent half a day touring San Jose, CA with an urban design professor from a leading Chinese metropolitan university. We came back to Berkeley and had a late lunch, in the course of which he noted how important an example San Jose would be for secondary and tertiary cities in China, "which are about to make the same mistakes that San Jose made a generation ago." It's not the pace of development that matters, but the quality of the result. As China makes its way up Maslow's pyramid, development is less about raw numbers, which is why Shui On's Xintiandi project in Shanghai - mixing new with restored old - is being widely emulated. SF is not exactly at Maslow's peak, but it's high enough up that we can legitimately ask why its glacial, nominally consultative entitlements process still produces crap. In a city where relatively little gets built, wouldn't it make sense to set the quality bar higher? Yet we don't. Projects like the Infinity and One Rincon Hill earn a pass because "they're not that bad." If that's our criterion, why all the agony? Maybe it would be better if SF's buildings were subject to recall. (The Heller quote is from the SF Business Times, 5-12 March 2010, pages 21-22.)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Obama's m.o.

"For all their differences of style and speech, Obama and Daley shared a basic approach to politics as a constant negotiation of interests and ideals - Chicago's brand of Realpolitik. Both had advanced by capitalizing on the prevailing power structure, not by dismantling it." - Evan Osnos
This quote is from a profile of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in The New Yorker (8 March 2010, pages 38-51). It sheds light on Obama's m.o. His problem has been that Congress lacks a Daley - the people in charge are pygmies on stilts (to quote Einstein). So Obama has to fill the gap. Either he'll learn to lead, in his own fashion, or he'll be gone. This is a bit like JFK, who sidelined Lyndon Johnson by making him VP, then had to compensate (or try to compensate) for his absence. That must have been painful for Johnson. I wonder if Obama's first year has been equally so for Daley?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Las Vegas

"Walk on the Wild Side"
This song, with choral accompaniment, was playing as I ate dinner at a big new hotel in Las Vegas. Listening to it, I was thinking that if Hell has choirs, this must surely be part of the repertory.