GaWC Research Bulletin 172

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Environment and Planning A, 38 (5), (2006), 793-803.


Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Development as a “Monstrous Hybrid”: An Essay on the Primacy of Cities in the Expansion of Economic Life

P. J. Taylor


The summer of 2005 will be remembered for its massive ‘Live8’ concerts aspiring to ‘make poverty history’. Aimed at influencing the G8 summit, the efforts of the global popular music industry can take credit for keeping ‘ Africa ’, the geographical symbol of poverty, at the top of the agenda. Interestingly, supporters of the concerts justified the salience of their efforts through using two different time scales. A very common argument was that we have both the money and the technology to eradicate poverty; all that is missing is the will. Thus by forcing the ‘8 men in a room’ to address the issue, politics can add the missing ingredient and poverty becomes history. From a Braudellian perspective this is an extreme case of ‘eventism’, a world made up of important agents – great men - whose decisions determine history. But this is not the only way supporters interpreted the process of change. For some, it was a ‘moral crusade’, comparable to the nineteenth century crusade to end slavery. From this historical analogy, it follows that achieving goals will take many decades, not a few days. This relates to Braudel’s (1982) moyenne durée and longue durée, longer time scales that cannot be simply ‘changed by decision’, but are nevertheless dynamic and therefore susceptible to influence: society can be ‘steered’ in preferred directions.

Discourses of development incorporate a moyenne durée timescale; the longue durée argument is ‘structural’. For instance, early development pioneers such as Paul Hoffman (1962) assumed that ‘development’ could be ‘compressed into decades’ (p. 8) so that ‘(b)y the year 2000, we can be living in a world that has overcome poverty’ (p. 142). It is because of such premature making-poverty- history pronouncements have been so distant from the actual outcomes of the UN ‘Development Decades’ that the ‘development industry’ is today in permanent crisis. But given its record, why does ‘development’ remain such a sizeable global venture? Two obvious reasons come to mind. First, the key problem development was devised to confront – poverty in the ‘South’ – remains as acute as ever. Second, there is another poverty that abounds, a poverty of imagination in the policy making that addresses ‘world poverty’: there has been no rival way of thinking to ‘development’, just different ways to do ‘development’. This essay explores just such alternative thinking as a necessary prelude to devising new policy to combat poverty.

Structural arguments have long been deployed against development thinking: Frank’s (1967) work remains the classic case. In this argument poor countries were not at the ‘early stages of development’, rather they were experiencing ‘development of underdevelopment’ that was keeping them poor. Subsumed into world-systems analysis (Wallerstein 1979), this way of thinking was briefly influential but its policy prescriptions were always problematic, as I will argue below. However, the latest crises of development has not boosted this mode of thinking, rather it has also come under severe criticism and, afflicted by ‘post-structuralism’, it has been unable to push forward and supersede its failed rival. Nevertheless, for me it remains the best way forward for understanding the issue of global poverty in the twenty first century.1 In this argument, fundamental social change occurs slowly because complex societies are premised upon a whole series of basic understandings on how the social world works. Produced slowly over time, these are taken-for-granted social norms and mores that structure - define limits to - possibilities for change.

Structures are not ephemeral because they provide the necessary foundation for an existing society, the framework through which its members reproduce their society. Thus, millions of people asserting that they will not stand for continuing mass poverty across the world is an important force for change to the degree that it becomes a movement that can sustain pressure to erode the structures inhibiting ‘global social justice’. Of course, there are already many such movements. For instance, according to West (2005, 103), by the 1990s ‘the African nation-state had been de-legitimated, both within and without’ resulting in a shift of political power back to movements from states. Certainly, these states were themselves the products of past movements, national liberation movements, whose goals, by definition, were the creation of states. Half a century on, the latter are no longer the solution; they are part of the problem (Davidson 1992). A key criticism of the Live8 politics was that they pressured the G8 governments but had little to say about inadequate African governments. However, if not these ‘de-legitimated states’, what other vehicles are there for any political programmes that will eliminate poverty? This is a classic structural conundrum. It has even been suggested that re-colonization by the West is in order (West 2005, 103)! However, if the choice were only between inadequate existing states and new colonial states, we really would be suffering from an acute poverty of imagination. To be sure the territorial spatial organization that are states is the necessary foundation for reproducing modern society but if that means reproducing poverty then we need to transcend states to eliminate poverty. It is the purpose of this essay to transcend state-centric thinking in both development and structural analysis.

My argument begins with a very simple, but equally very fundamental, observation that rich regions are full of vibrant cities and poor regions have few cities.2 If only for this elementary geography, it might be thought that ‘development’ strategies might routinely nourish and promote cities in poor regions. But, no – in fact ‘developing’ national economies, has typically ignored or undervalued cities. For instance, a critical difference between the economic success of ex-colonial Pacific Asia compared to ex-colonial inter-tropical Africa is the phenomenal rise of economically vibrant cities in Asia . It suggests policy focused upon cities and their (sometimes transnational) city-regions but this lesson hardly registers with those concerned for ‘saving Africa ’. In terms of ‘steering’ world society, this means steering clear of states as poverty-makers while harnessing the economic power of cities to reproduce a society that eliminates poverty. And yet despite cities being conspicuous by their absence in current debates about ‘saving Africa ’, it is Africa ’s cities that are the true miracles in the midst of economic disasters. The ingenuity of humanity assures that while Somalia effectively disappears, Mogadishu continues to operate; while Zaire/Congo suffers decades of brutal ‘civil war’, Kinshasa grows ever larger (Rakodi 1998). Now these are not the vibrant economic cities mentioned above – this is not possible given the states they are in – but they are where a future global justice for Africa could be built. The remaining bulk of the paper provides justification for such assertions and hopes.

The structure of my argument is simple in the extreme: part one answers the question ‘why not states?’ and part two answers the question ‘why cities?’ Both parts draw heavily on the work of Jane Jacobs; this paper can be viewed as an interpretation of some of her ideas for providing new light on the structural conundrum of development. I focus upon materialist arguments, fully realizing that any human sense of ‘development’ must include more than economics. Furthermore, within a materialist approach I limit myself to largely one part of a larger whole. It seems to me that any materialist approach to development must include at least three key processes: expansion of economic life, distribution of the product of economic life, and the sustainability of that economic life. Obviously all three have to be considered together but for analytic reasons they can initially be separated. Below I focus mainly on expansion, have a little to say about distribution, and neglect sustainability.


Jane Jacobs provides two distinctive answers to this question. First, Jacobs (1984) argues that there is no reason to think that states should be economic units for analysis and policy because they are fundamentally political and military entities. Why should boundaries historically carved out by wars constitute a spatial framework for economic processes? I have used this argument elsewhere (Taylor 2004) and do not develop it further here. Second, Jacobs (1992) develops a moral-philosophic framework to show specifically why states are so bad at economics. She describes ‘systems of survival’ as ‘moral syndromes’ that are transhistorical and whose integrities are often undermined in modern society. I interpret these as deep structures of normative behaviour for reasons that will become clear as I proceed.

Structures of Normative Behaviour

Jacobs (1992) key contribution is to identify two distinctive moral syndromes that are separate sets of precepts reflecting deeply different values. There are just two syndromes because there are only ‘two distinct ways of making a living, no more and no less’ (p. 51). First, there is simple taking what we need, work that ranges from hunter-gathers harvesting from their territories to modern governments collecting taxes. Second, and unique to humans, there is trading, exchanging goods and services to satisfy needs, work which ranges from early peddlers to contemporary multinational corporations. These are summarized as ‘takers and makers’, each of whom operate through distinctive structures of normative behaviour that are the result of ‘millennia of experience with trading and producing, on the one hand, and with organizing and managing territories, on the other hand.’ (p. xii). She calls these the commercial syndrome and guardian syndrome; the precepts that constitute each structure are shown in Table 1. They form coherent ‘systems’ of ideas because ‘they arose existentially as events and activities required them and tested them’ (p. 133); from my perspective very deep structures of normative behaviour.

A good way to understanding these structures and their opposition is through what Jacobs terms the ‘key virtue’ of each (p. 69). These are honesty for the commercial syndrome and loyalty for the guardian precept. Quite simply, a successful working commercial life requires honesty, whereas a successful guardianship requires loyalty. And as we know, these two values often clash. For instance, when we write references for job applicants we have to be ‘objective’ – that is be honest – even though, by definition, the person is known to us and therefore we may feel obliged to be a little economical with the truth. We are expected to resist this temptation because the job market relies on honest testimony – we are operating in the commercial syndrome. However, note that we would not normally be asked to write a reference for a relative; here the pressures of loyalty are assumed to be too great. The expectation is that we would be guided by the guardian syndrome. In the wider world, banks can only operate through honesty and trust, armies can only operate through loyalty and authority. These values are not just incompatible, their substitution creates disaster: a bank making decisions based on loyalty would soon go bankrupt; an army making decisions based on honesty would soon lose the war.

As Table 1 illustrates, these key virtues are just the central precepts of two wide-ranging syndromes. I will quickly contrast summarily. Commerce allows dissent (disloyalty), guardians allow deception (dishonesty). Force has no place in commercial life whereas for guardians trade is demeaning. Commerce requires a cosmopolitan outlook; guardians thrive on exclusiveness. The commercial syndrome is a litany of progress (novelty, enterprise), the guardian syndrome is a litany of tradition (hierarchy and obedience). They deal completely differently regarding capital, with thrifty industriousness contrasting with ostentatious leisure. The final three pairs of precepts sum up the idealised outcome of this behaviour: economic efficiency versus social honour, optimism versus fatalism, and finally opposition is a matter of competition in commerce and vengeance in guardianship. Jacobs (1992, 27) describes these precepts as ‘linked and overlapping clusters’ in arguing for their innate coherence and reference should be made to this original source for further explication of the two syndromes. I will accept her framework as delineating structures of normative behaviour in the remainder of this paper (for a wide ranging discussion of these ideas, see Lawrence (1989)).

As structures underpinning moral codes, there are several mechanisms that can arise where processes create distinctive outcomes. First of all, Jacobs insists that both of her syndromes are equally necessary and the best outcomes are where they generate distinct and separate tendencies in society. Ipso facto, the worst outcomes are when the integrity of one of the syndromes is destroyed by infiltration by the other (p. 101). Worse case scenarios are what she calls ‘monstrous hybrids’ when one syndrome’s virtues are transplanted into activities associated with the other syndrome. For instance, both the mafia (pp. 92-7) and the USSR (pp. 98-102) are identified as monstrous hybrids wherein guardian values are used in commerce:

Structurally, they do much resemble each other; into an otherwise strong guardian syndrome comes the massive breach of the guardian precept to shun trading. Since the guardian syndrome is neither morally nor functionally suited to carrying on production and trade, the commerce involved is corrupted and its moral foundations ruined.’ (Jacobs 1992, 102)

The result is ultimate economic disaster for areas whose economies are at the disposal of guardians either as private extortionists or state planners.

How State Development is a Monstrous Hybrid

Monstrous hybrids arise because the two syndromes produce contrasting ‘casts of mind’ that act as fetters on what is seen as possible (Jacobs 1992, 128-30). Guardians assume a world of zero-sum games – taking territory is a win-lose process. The commercial syndrome engenders a cast of mind that allows for growth, always searching for win-win deals. Thus, however we define ‘development’, it surely must involve economic growth and therefore should be kept out of the hands of guardians. Just the opposite has occurred.

In the UN ‘Decades of Development’, the practice of development as an economic process under guardian direction (i.e a monstrous hybrid) has engaged five important processes that ensure the persistence of poverty. First, agriculture is more important in poor countries than rich countries and this economic sector is particularly susceptible to undermining by guardian precepts. Second, there is the private banking relationship to poor countries which has severely violated the commercial syndrome. Third, there is the Bretton Woods multilateral financial organizations (World Bank, IMF) that masquerade as banks but are essentially guardian institutions. Fourth, there are the donor countries of bi-lateral aid that are explicitly guardians and act that way. Finally, the poor countries themselves, are, of course, guardian institutions and, in hindsight, it seems incredible that rich guardians in poor countries should ever have been entrusted with ‘development’.

Agriculture is a commercial pursuit but the fact that it is a land-based activity complicates its moral integrity. The territorial concerns of guardians has typically meant that this commercial practice is grossly interfered with. As Jacobs (1992, 118-9) tells it:

‘… an economic activity that is functionally and morally commercial has historically been skewed to conform to the contradictory values and morals of guardian landownership …..Rulers long ago became preoccupied with agriculture because it meshed with their preoccupations with territory. Tradition has perpetuated the fixation.’

And the fixation has been perpetuated in both rich and poor countries. In the former, agriculture is marked out as the ‘guardian industry’ through its large state subsidies – the EU budget still makes the institution look like a farmer’s club – which reduce markets for poor country’s produce. In poor countries this same guardianship cast of mind has undermined land reform, a ubiquitous ‘development policy’ notoriously difficult to successfully achieve. As countries with large agricultural sectors, ‘development’ is severely hampered by so much of the economy affected by guardian precepts such as exerting prowess instead of coming to voluntary agreements, and adhering to tradition rather than being open to inventiveness and novelty.

International banking is another sector indicted for its moral integrity in ‘development’. In the rich countries the 1980s are famous for investment banks transgressing the commercial syndrome. Take-overs by leverage buy-out whereby the company pays for its own purchase with future debt is a hostile win-lose game, and is functionally identical to the traditional guardian mechanism of winning territory and then plundering the land to pay for the war (Jacobs 1992, 142). In poor countries a similar transgression led to the continual debt crisis. Lending money without a realistic chance of repayment is not a commercial banking process. Quite simply these loans were never investments, written down or off, they represent largess distributed at the behest of the World Bank, initially for Cold War political reasons and subsequently used to force neo-liberal policies on poor countries. This dispensing of largess rather than investing for productive purposes is a classic case of guardian corruption of ‘development’.

The World Bank has been implicated in the previous transgression but, with its Bretton Woods twin, the IMF, it is a major transgressor of the commercial syndrome in its own right. The fact that they both deal with the financial matters does not make them banks in any commercial sense. Although they are the financial arm of the UN family of institutions, they are located in Washington , DC rather than with UN headquarters in the global financial centre of New York . Quite simply global financial markets are not of concern to the World Bank and IMF, but being near the political centre of the world is important. With states as shareholders, the USA with the largest share holding, and rich countries in general overwhelmingly in control, these are guardian institutions that deal with finance. This has been most clearly illustrated in their ostentation reflected in a fetish for large projects. Dams, with their grand scale and destruction of productive territory, are these global guardian’s favourite: Jacobs (1984, 122-3) has suggested that future archaeologists discovering our civilization will surmise that we were a strange cult that built massive water containers to express unknown spiritual needs. Such an interpretation is at least as good as assuming dams are about economic growth.

Nearly all rich countries come nowhere near meeting the 0.7% target of GNP for the aid budget. Quite properly this is taken as a sign that these states are less than fully committed to ‘development’ of their poorer peers. But there is a different perspective on this: are donor countries through bi-lateral aid programmes suitable vehicles for promoting economic growth outside their own territory? Given their adherence to the guardian syndrome the answer must be an emphatic no. Put together the precepts ‘be loyal’, ‘exert prowess’ and ‘be exclusive’ and a very dysfunction economics results. The process is that it is the donor country’s interests that come first with loyalty to their own firms (with their voter-workers) satisfied by exerting pressure to produce monopoly positions for these firms. Arms deals usually follow this mechanism, but dams also feature here too. Of course, the recipient poor country knows that if it does not fall into line, vengeance (sanctions) will be forthcoming. If extreme departures from the commercial syndrome (bribery) risk being revealed, the donors can always invoke ‘state security’, which translates as deceiving for the sake of the task.

Bi-lateral aid is a transaction between two sets of guardians, and recipient poor countries are equally indictable here. By designating ‘development’ as a state process, economic growth is delivered into the hands of guardians. Mixing moral syndromes creates ‘intractable systemic corruption’ that undermines both commercial and guardian normative behaviour (Jacobs 1992, 133). Pervasive economic and political corruption ensue as found, for instance, in the USA with its Savings and Loans outrage, its more recent Enron/Anderson affair plus the endemic Pentagon procurement scandals. In poor countries this mechanism is reflected in endemic corruption as guardians, often from military backgrounds, apply a totally inappropriate cast of mind to the task of ‘development’. Here the whole list of guardian precepts from loyalty to vengeance (Table 1) comes into play to provide a moral infrastructure for wholesale looting of countries. The result has been that territorial sovereignty is often reduced to the right of generals to be ostentatious, viscous and corrupt. Surely, the one lesson the UN Decades of Development have taught is that the combination of ‘development’ and ‘state’ is a non sequitur for poor countries.


I began answering the last question - why not states? – by using Jacobs (1984) argument that states are essentially political rather than economic entities. In this latter work she goes on to argue that in contrast to the ‘grab bags of very different economies ‘ that are nation-states … (w)e can’t avoid seeing … that among all the various types of economy, cities are unique in their abilities to shape and reshape the economies of other settlements …’(p. 32). In elaborating this argument Jacobs develops a theory of economic expansion that has led leading economist Paul Krugman (1997, 5) to call her ‘a patron saint of the new growth theory’. Since any economic ‘development’ must be based ultimately on such expansion, this theory brings cities to the heart of the debate over development and poverty.

Cities and the Expansion of Economic Life

Jacobs defines cities as a process. The process is import replacement which she describes as ‘a process of immense, even awesome, economic force’ (Jacobs 1970, 150). It is by replacing imports from other cities that city economies expand economic life. This concentration in space is complemented by a concentration in time: the ‘new work’ of import replacement comes in spurts and any settlement that experiences such a transformation is deemed a city. The outcome of such expansions is to create dynamic, complex and diverse economies. The process encompasses two sub-processes that Jacobs (p. 21) refers to: first, the ‘little movements’ within city economies that turn, second, ‘the great wheels of economic life’. Jacobs’ discussion of these ‘little’ interactions within cities at the heart of this economic dynamism is a foundation text of economic clustering theory. But the second sub-process – the ‘great wheels’ – is generally less well developed by Jacobs. She does argue that ‘cities needs one another’ (Jacobs 1984, 135) and that ‘a city seems always to have implied a group of cities, in trade with one another’ (Jacobs 1970, 35) but most of her description of this process involves the dyad relations of just pairs of cities. It is, perhaps, better to see cities as generically forming networks: the sub-process is therefore network creation (Taylor 2004).

However, Jacobs’ (1984) examples of import replacement do clearly illustrate the essence of the process. For instance, the contrast between the economic fortunes of Japan and Argentina are encapsulated by the nature of their leading cities. In the late nineteenth century Tokyo imported bicycles from European cities. Soon bicycle repairs were needed and some of these repairers eventually became bicycle manufacturers selling first in Tokyo and then in other Japanese and Asian cities, ipso facto reducing the import of bicycles. Obviously this new work had the effect of curtailing the markets of bicycle manufacturers in European cities but this is not a zero-sum game. The erstwhile bicycle manufacturing cities now had new markets for their machinery and machine tool industries. Thus is created a kind of inter-city spiral of growth. At about the same time Buenos Aires began to prosper as the leading port exporting agricultural produce from its large hinterland to European cities. This is a different process, producing a relative simple local economy dependent on external markets. Hence whereas the Tokyo economy was able to spearhead a massive expansion in economic life through Japanese cities and other Pacific Asian cities in the twentieth century, Buenos Aires’s fortunes fluctuated with world commodity markets and it was never able to forge an equivalent economic surge through Argentinean cities.

Two things needed to be made clear at this point in relation to states. First, it is totally irrelevant whether the important replacement is from a city in the same country or from a foreign city. The process is premised on inter-city relations only, states are exogenous to the practice. This leads to the second crucial point: import replacement in cities is totally different from import substitution by states. The latter policies have been commonly adopted by states as a means to industrialise and therefore ‘develop’. Associated with the nineteenth century German economist Friedrich List, the primary policy is tariff protection. This is a classic guardian approach, territorialist in its restriction of economic flows, it is premised upon taking work from other countries. In other words, it is zero-sum thinking and therefore, unlike city import replacement, it does not expand economic life.

Cities Producing both Economic Complexes and Simple ‘Economic Grotesques’

I have noted earlier that city economies ‘shape and reshape the economies of other settlements’ (Jacobs 1984, 32). How do they do this? In fact there are two processes one very positive, the other iniquitous. The former is the transmission of dynamic, complex and diverse economic processes through city-regions and city networks. This is why cities need each other. An isolated city or a set of cities with little connection defines a stagnant economic zone. Jacobs (1984, 124) calls these by-passed places - she gives the example of Ethiopia as a historical example of a region that has suffered this fate (p. 129). In contrast well-connected vibrant cities are the core-producing processes that Wallerstein (1979) describes in his world-systems analysis. However, the by-passed places do not constitute the periphery, rather they are external arenas, regions outside the modern world-system – no such regions currently exist. In contrast, the periphery is not defined by default in terms of what is missing; rather periphery is purposively created. It is the iniquitous mechanisms of the projection of city economic power that are periphery-producing processes.

Jacobs (1984, 42-3) identifies five ‘great forces’ of economic growth that between produce diverse city economies. These are: enlarged city markets, increased numbers and kinds of jobs, transplants of city work, new uses for technology, and growth of city capital. Working together these forces are highly productive so that, for instance, as new technologies reduce jobs in one sector, new city work takes up the employment slack. This virtuous economic process creates city-regions and city networks that are economically complex and can also be geographically complex. The latter results from agglomeration economies that produce multi-nodal city-regions – a classic contemporary case is the Pearl River Delta combining Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and several other cities as one of the ‘power houses’ of Chinese economic revival (Castells 1996, 406). There are no equivalents in inter-tropical Africa – a Niger River Delta city-region complex or a Congo River Delta city-region complex are not even in planners’ dreams. But this does not mean that inter-tropical Africa is beyond the influence of vibrant cities, albeit they are all external.

These same five ‘great forces’ are iniquitous when they operate singly, without compensating each other. Instead of producing complex economies, simple economic regions are created. In Jacobs’ (1984, 59) words: ‘cities shape stunted and bizarre economies in distant regions’. Where each economic force operates alone, it creates five different ‘economic grotesques’. City markets generate relatively simple ‘supply regions’, and these have been global since the late nineteenth century when the imperialist economy moulded the rest of the world into multiple supply regions for the North Atlantic economic core. It was at this time that Buenos Aires/Argentina got locked into the structure while Tokyo/Japan managed to stay out. This is effectively Frank’s (1969) ‘development of underdevelopment’. But Jacobs identifies four additional negative projections of economic power. New city jobs cause ‘abandoned regions’, with labour attracted to the city leaving the source region to rely on remittances. Factory transplants produce simple ‘industrial supply regions’, single factory towns vulnerable to the whims of the market. New technologies are the most destructive creating ‘rural clearances’ where existing labour are replaced by much less labour intensive work (the Scottish Highland clearances remain the classic case). Finally, surplus capital (largesse) has been behind mega-development projects (such as dams). Notice that some of this capital may have originated in poor regions (corrupt political leaders, drug lords) but whereas these holders of capital have few choices for investment (often to Swiss private banks: Zurich is arguably the ‘third world’s most successful city’ over the last half century), the city capitalists have the whole world to invest in.

These are all processes that produce the simple economies that are the semi-periphery and periphery of the capitalist world-economy.


On cue, within a month of Live8 and the G8 conference, horrendous pictures of famine in Niger dominated the world’s media. This poses the obvious question that if famine cannot be prevented, what hope of making poverty history? However, it also highlights my ‘which history?’ question. A famine is an event that demands emergency aid, it comes into the purview of Braudel’s (1978) episodic time (history of events) and can be distinguished from poverty in this way. In these concluding remarks I continue to focus on the moyenne dureé and longue dureé as the appropriate time scales for tackling world poverty3, for revisiting the policy realm captured by ‘development thinking’.

As part of his preparations for the G8 meeting, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown proposed a ‘Marshall Plan for Africa ’. Combining debt relief with increasing aid budgets, this would provide more capital for poor countries. Generally well-received, but with Live8 concert organisers arguing that lack of capital not to be the problem, the analysis developed above suggests this to be highly problematic without safeguards from pernicious investment or recycling. It does, however, neatly illustrate the differences in policy options between rich and poor regions. The original Marshall Plan channelling US capital into post-World War II Europe worked because Europe , despite war damage, was a region of cities with the social infrastructure and social capital to absorb the money productively. Hence the Plan contributed to a virtuous spiral of economic growth that was the ‘post-war boom’. Taking policy based on this experience and transplanting it to contemporary Africa is simply untenable: unless cities are targeted, all the evidence suggests that the new capital will have little or no effect on reducing poverty. So what can be done, given the above analysis?

The traditional radical policy prescription of has been to use the state to curtail the pernicious effects of the capitalist world-economy. The limiting case is ‘delinking’ (Amin 1990) and the thinking is quite logical: if the ‘North’ is exploiting the ‘South’ then an obvious prescription is to cut off relations with the ‘North’. Pol Pot’s murderous anti-city regime in Kampuchea adopted this approach with disastrous consequences (Vickery 1984). But this ‘left solution’ is merely an extreme form of Listean protectionism: it is a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face. As with state protectionism, possibilities of expanding economic life are sacrificed with delinking: in both cases, connections to economic processes that can enhance economic growth are eliminated. The question is: in the medium and long term, are, say, Sao Paulo population better off as residents of Brazil’s leading city in a ‘protected’ national economy, or will more and better jobs be generated in the city as a world city within a worldwide network of such cities? Boundary economic policies may have sometimes worked well in the past for protecting ‘infant industries’ as copies of past leading industries, but in a global world the opportunity costs appear too high.

The opposite of state delinking/protection is city integration into the world-economy. This is not, of course, the same as promoting ‘free trade’ because the latter is state policy that provides guardian encouragement of the iniquitous city forces previously listed: free trade is a simple policy to produce simple regions for simple exploitation. Integration needs to foster possibilities of expanding economic life across the world-economy. This means getting the ‘little movements’ started so they can feed into the ‘big wheels’ and get feedback through those ‘big wheels. Obviously very difficult, Jacobs (1984, 154-5) describes the situation thus:

If one wanted to define economic development in a single word, that word would be “improvisation.” But infeasible improvisation is fruitless, so it would be more accurate to say that development is a process of continually improvising in a context that makes injecting improvisations into everyday economic life feasible. Cities in volatile trade with one another create that context. Nothing else does, which is why backward cities need one another.

Given the incredible resilience of cities in poor regions, improvisation is certainly not in short supply, thus the policy imperative should be to ensure the feasibility of appreciably expanding economic life. This is, of course, exactly what the political circumstances in most poor regions currently prevent. Jacobs’ mention of ‘backward cities’ is a reference to the historical process of geographical expansion of city networks. Perhaps this process is redundant in a globalised world-economy, but the idea does emphasis the need for the ‘big wheels’ to be less hierarchical (inter-city relations currently as North-North and North-South) to be more generally networked (as North-North and North-South plus South-South).

So finally, what does this contrarian approach to ‘development’ have to offer for the aspiration to end global poverty? Unlike many criticisms of the development industry this paper has balanced criticism with an alternative way of thinking and doing things. This can be summarised in a table that acts as a simple framework for the dos and don’ts of policy. Since my concern is for expanding economic life I use economic terminology (including a little word invention). Using Hicks (1969), Jacobs’ economic process can be simplified as two economic externalities. Externalities provide extra capital (usually in the form of knowledge) but cost nothing because they are external to the market. Vibrant cities offer two related externalities both of which contribute directly to expanding economic life. The ‘small movements’ are helped through cluster externalities; the ‘great wheels’ by network externalities. This defines the first column of Table 2. This is the ‘do column’: all developments in poor regions should be tested about whether these externalities can be brought into play. Without them poor regions will always be at a disadvantage vis a vis rich regions where these externalities abound. But there are also what might be called ‘internalities’. If externalities are paying nothing for something, then internalities are paying something for nothing. Corrupt local ‘guardians’ curtail the ‘little movements’ and neo-liberal international ‘guardians’ distort the ‘great wheels’. These are inputs into market operations that undermine the externalities and define the second column in Table 2. This is the don’t column: all developments in poor regions should be tested to these ‘internalities’ can be avoided or at least, diminished. When and where these processes dominate, poor regions will always be poor.


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1I appreciate this is a big debate that I am eluding here; my basic position is that however intellectually convincing the post-structural critiques are for ‘imagining alternatives’, the resulting ‘post-development’ appears to contribute little to the economic expansion that I deem necessary in any serious approach to eliminating world poverty.

2 This simple assertion has recently been statistically tested erroneously using ‘urbanization’ to represent ‘vibrant cities’ (Polèse, 2005) – see Taylor (2005).

3 In world-systems terms, it is important to understand that the twenty first century will be a time when these two time scales will merge as the modern world-system enters is crisis phase (Hopkins and Wallerstein 1996)

Table 1: Jacobs’ Moral Syndromes (Structures of Normative Behaviour)










Be honest

Dissent for the sake of the task

Shun force

Come to voluntary agreements

Collaborate with strangers and aliens

Be open to inventiveness and novelty

Use initiative and enterprise

Respect contracts

Be industrious

Be thrifty

Invest for productive purposes

Promote comfort and convenience

Be efficient

Be optimistic



Be loyal

Deceive for the sake of the task

Shun trading

Exert prowess

Be exclusive

Adhere to tradition

Be obedient and disciplined

Respect hierarchy

Make rich use of leisure

Be ostentatious

Dispense largesse

Show fortitude

Treasure honour

Be fatalistic

Take vengeance


Table 2: A Framework of Dos and Don’ts


Externalities (from diverse cities with complex economies)

Internalities (from uniform states with simple economic spaces)


‘the little movements’


e.g. foster economic clusters in cities


e.g. by-pass corrupt local ‘guardians’


‘the great wheels’


e.g. promote inter-city connectivities


e.g. avoid free trade imposed by outside ‘guardians’


Edited and posted on the web on 22nd August 2005

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Environment and Planning A, 38 (5), (2006), 793-803.