Robert Moses and The Market As God

Robin’s Book Report #56
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

-new writing
-reading list

New Article Alert

A new Wegmans is being plopped down in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and I went out to talk to the NYCHA residents in the area about how the new fancy grocery store may or may not help them. It’s my first big feature, and first article for Gothamist. Give it a read.


My article about Bill de Blasio’s failure to imagine a new way to develop low income housing without enriching private developers and supercharging gentrification was recently translated into Spanish. I can’t read Spanish, so I remain blissfully unaware of the quality of the translation. Though they misplaced the hyphen in my name, which is not a good sign.


Reading list

Is Poverty Necessary?” by Marilynne Robinson (Harper’s)

Great essay. It stays to true to the titular question, which is not an easy task because it is an incredibly complex question. The question about why poverty still exists sprawls across the regions of not only economics and politics, but philosophy, anthropology, any other number of fields.

Best clip:

This prompts a question that we ask with some urgency now. To quote Henry George: “Why, in spite of increases in productive power, do wages tend to a minimum which will give but a bare living?” I believe the short answer would be: because they can, neither ethics nor law intervening.

Trust me, she doesn’t settle for the short answer. This essay will allow you to see the issue of poverty anew. Restricted access online, but I’ll scan the issue and send you a PDF if you’re interested.

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade Was a Robert Moses Head Fake

By Thomas J. Campanella (Intelligencer)

The dramatic, tricky, tactical side of Robert Moses:

In all likelihood, Moses ordered the Hicks Street survey simply to provoke the Heights, fanning its worst-case fears so that almost any alternative would be embraced by relieved and grateful residents.

Apologias Halfway House

by Jacob Shell (n+1)

Jacob Shell visits three exhibitions dedicated to Robert Moses (in 2007) and finds that while all the shows try to rehab Moses’ imagine, they neglect a major aspect of Moses’ program: that he was trying to design a city that would retain it’s industrial backbone. He built public housing so factory workers would have a decent, affordable place to live, highways to move goods in, around, and out of the city, hospitals to keep workers healthy, and schools to educate them. What we forget is that the city (New York City, but most U.S. cities actually) bowed before the altar of Fordist manufacturing. This obviously makes no sense to a contemporary denizen of New York. The highways seem to be ugly streaks across perfectly good real estate! Our urban new religion is real estate, and to a smaller degree, retail.

Anyhow, Moses failed to retain New York’s industrial economy, and that spine dissolved between the fingers of city leaders in the late 1960s. But thinking about Moses in this way makes his authoritarian interventions make a little more sense, like the radical transformation of Taiwan in the last half of the 20th century, or even China for that matter.

The Market as God”

Living in the new dispensation

By Harvey Cox (The Atlantic)

Cox, a theological scholar at Harvard, had a realization in 1999 (when this article was written). The business pages of the newspaper professed a new, complicated, almost totally realized faith: the market.

Alan Greenspan vindicated this tempered faith in testimony before Congress last October. A leading hedge fund had just lost billions of dollars, shaking market confidence and precipitating calls for new federal regulation. Greenspan, usually Delphic in his comments, was decisive. He believed that regulation would only impede these markets, and that they should continue to be self-regulated. True faith, Saint Paul tells us, is the evidence of things unseen.

I, of course, agree wholeheartedly: it is the true faith!

Soon I began to marvel at just how comprehensive the business theology is. There were even sacraments to convey salvific power to the lost, a calendar of entrepreneurial saints, and what theologians call an “eschatology”—a teaching about the “end of history.” My curiosity was piqued. I began cataloguing these strangely familiar doctrines, and I saw that in fact there lies embedded in the business pages an entire theology, which is comparable in scope if not in profundity to that of Thomas Aquinas or Karl Barth. It needed only to be systematized for a whole new Summa to take shape.

We see the eschatology of the market prophets play out almost daily. Dark seers take to the New York Times to warn of an oncoming recession. But read the column and what do they know? A decline in the price of pork bellies indicates a slow-down in Rust Belt consumer spending? Maybe they’re right, but they’ve definitely been wrong.

As I tried to follow the arguments and explanations of the economist-theologians who justify The Market’s ways to men, I spotted the same dialectics I have grown fond of in the many years I have pondered the Thomists, the Calvinists, and the various schools of modern religious thought.

A sort-of Marxist conclusion:

The willed-but-not-yet-achieved omnipotence of The Market means that there is no conceivable limit to its inexorable ability to convert creation into commodities.

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