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  Tuesday  August 20  2002    11: 36 PM

Why running government as a business is a really bad idea...

Acceptable losses
The 739 people killed by Chicago's 1995 heat wave were the victims of a mayor who believed in running his city like a business

In terms of lives lost, the 1995 Chicago heat wave was one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in recent American history. Yet how many of you outside of Chicago have even heard of it? I certainly hadn't before reading Klinenberg's book. And part of the reason for that lies in the way we think about heat, a line of thinking reflected in the judgment of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and many of his city officials that the heat wave was an act of God, and that the deaths were unavoidable. However, an even more ominous attitude than simple complacency about hot weather was in effect during the deadly '95 heat wave: It was a classic case of how deciding to run a city like a corporation can put citizens' lives in danger. [read more]

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This reminded me of a book that I read some years ago, lent to a friend, never returned from friend (some friend!), that I need to buy and reread.

Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics
by Jane Jacobs

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Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics

If there is a tragedy of the commons, it is not commoners over-exploiting their resources. On the contrary, most commoners do a pretty good job. The tragedy is invasions- sometimes by the military (so many villages burned in Africa wars), but mostly by traders and commerce. The two attitudes-the guardianship ethical complex of the commoners and the commercial ethical complex of the trader-are brilliantly contrasted in Jane Jacobs's book. It is, really, the only book on the subject, presented as a Platonic dialog among gathered friends at various evening salons.

Jane Jacobs (author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities ) asks all the right questions: When is it ethical to deceive? When does business enhance or subvert the common good? When is industriousness a virtue? When a vice? How can guardians preserve guardianship and not contaminate it with commercial enterprise? For any of us involved with green businesses or community economics or free trade and sustainability, this idea-dense book clarifies and enriches the very contemporary and intense struggles over the future of the planet. [read more]

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Traders and Raiders

Ideally, says Jacobs, in any given society the commercial and guardian syndromes should coexist in separate, symbiotic relationships. Why separate? Because, according to Jacobs: "[C]razy things happen systematically when either moral syndrome . . . embraces functions inappropriate to it." It is as though each system has its own moral ecology that can be fatally disrupted by the introduction of foreign elements. Jacobs fears that the guardian syndrome may be gaining ascendancy in inappropriate places and that "systemic corruption" of both syndromes may be spreading. Systemic corruption, more intractable than random individual corruption, frequently takes the form of breakdown, with each system losing the ability to discipline its members or to check its own extreme proclivities. But it may also produce "monstrous hybrids"ólike the Sicilian mutual defense societies that applied raiding methods to trading (Mafia), the Ik of southern Uganda who began raiding each other when they were forced from hunting into farming, or American investment bankers in the takeover era. [read more]