Jane Jacobs has spent years changing the way we think about economic life in general. Now, in The Nature of Economies, Jacobs proposes a radical notion that has breath-taking common sense: economies are governed by the same rules as nature itself. With the simplicity of an extremely wise and seasoned thinker, Jane Jacobs shows us that by looking to nature, we can develop economies that are both efficient and ecologically friendly.
The Nature of Economies is written in dialogue form: five intelligent friends discussing over coffee how economies work. The result is a wonderfully provocative, truly ground-breaking work by one of the great thinkers of our time.
Jacobs's 1961 classic, Death and Life of Great American Cities, broke new ground in its insistence that humane urban planning could result from looking intently at people's everyday lives as a microcosm of the needs of city, economic and national life. The book also showcased Jacobs's superb ability to weave her own and her neighbors' personal stories into her theories of urban planning and development. In this important, essentially philosophical new work on patterns of social and economic growth, Jacobs immerses herself in the role of storyteller, building her arguments through a series of conversations between a group of environmentally aware, countercultural friends talking about what it means for humans to interact, understand one another and dwell safely and without causing harm in the world. Jacobs's choice to explore this material within a Socratic dialogue might seem pretentious or simplistic in less skilled hands. Yet her tone and style are so assured that it is hard to imagine a straightforward, expository examination of the same ideas that conveys as much nuance. The approach also amplifies Jacobs's theme of exploring the myriad ways in which humans exist "wholly within nature" and not, as some environmentalists claim, as "interlopers." Drawing upon examples from nature, the physical sciences, evolutionary theory, mathematics and quantum physics, Jacobs cogently illustrates how human beings and the civilizations they create can be in harmony with the world around them. Sounding the same themes she has been investigating for the past 40 years, this witty, beautifully expressed book represents the culmination of Jacobs's previous thinking, and a step forward that deftly invokes a broader philosophical, even metaphysical, context.