reanimation III: on bureaucracy, price-gauging, war and elastic cities

by oskar gudehn

.1) James Kirkup argues that part of David Camerons recent problems are due to the inefficient political infrastructure he has set up (or is the critique of the infrastructure just a hidden way to criticise the PM himself?). Slowly many of the important positions in the HQ have been replaced by civic servants, more gray bureaucrats than (conservative) policy advisors.

Maybe there is a need to, conceptually, divide the political structure. Gray bureaucrats are just as important as policy advisors, but they have different key roles to fill. The first is an integral part of any consistent policy execution, the latter the ”think-tank” for creation of the guidelines.
Aseem Inam’s book ”Planning for the Unplanned: Recovering from Crises in Megacities” focuses on the importance of functioning (bureaucratic) routines, which would put emphazise on the need for rigid delegating/distributing political systems. The ”apolitical” civil servants might be good for the system as a whole, but bad for Cameron’s government. Is the conundrum mentioned by Kirkup the effect of a mix-up of the two aforementioned categories, or just political secrecy and back-stabbing.

.2) Tim Harford discusses the benefits of more dynamic pricing. Basically it means that prices would be more directly connected to supply/demand, when demand is high and supply is low prices would sky-rocket (and the opposite). While cheap discounts of over-supplied goods are often welcomed, the opposite is seen as unethical. Harford argues that prices increasing with high demand/low supply would increase efficiency.

Personally I have a couple of points of critiques, none of them really dealing with the question at hand (as a concept I have no problem with dynamic pricing/price-gauging) but rather with the concept of the market itself.

Harford argues that with flat-prices (and lottery/queue systems during shortages) ”the goods may not reach the people who want them most”. But capitalism does care about who wants something the most only who has the ability to pay (but this is a minor slip I’d say).

There is a problem in where to draw a line for ”basic rights/necessities” and ”luxury goods”. Dynamic pricing of concert tickets is reasonable, but what about health care? Dynamic pricing further needs ”free (or even perfect) markets” to be justifiable. Now, is there even such a thing as a (practically functioning) perfect market? Are not inherited power structures too big an influence/regulator not to be considered?
And with acceptance of price-gauging, one of the easiest way to increase revenue would be to decrease supply, hastening companies spiral towards monopoly/oligopoly/cartel structures.

.3) American violations continue in Afghanistan. The (media) backlash might however have increased American willingness to negotiate and hand over more power to the Afghan (puppet?) government.

The effects might be mostly symbolical, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important. Increasing Afghan command over matter of national security will, hopefully, create less friction with the Afghan people. With less power to the US forces local rebellions/warlords might have a harder time rallying troops against a foreign invasion.
And, hopefully, Afghan forces will be less likely to burn the Koran or massacre villages.

.4) Imagining an elastic city – Diana Limbach Lempel. Informal and flexible structures should be given more space/opportunity in cities. The idea is basically taken from the chaos of (Asian) mega-cities such as Mumbai. What could ”stable” cities in the West learn from this?

There is a fragrance of something quite disgusting in this rhetoric. Entropy and community is, in many places, strictly because of necessity. Stick together or starve. Take space or see it be taken from you. To apply this on (somewhat more fluently) functioning societies is mockery and romanticism. You can not talk about the entropic systems of Mumbai without talking about the poverty, injustice and problems as well.
There is another problem in this (green-movement romanticised) elastic city. There is a narrative of a city functioning as a dynamic organism, growing and shrinking; transforming. But buildings don’t want to move. A heavily shrinking city will mean that work, effort and resources used for construction will be spoiled. There is no escaping this.
Actually, every city to have existed is/was organic by definition (the inhabitants functioning as the mitochondria of a cell). But this makes the metaphor shallow; it needs to be better redefined.

However, this is where the elasticity becomes interesting; not as a substitute to traditional planning, but as the web knitting it together and filling in the gaps. I reject all symbolic connections to ”green organic cities” and their narratives. What is truly great about elasticity is the possibility to directly change and re-create your immediate surrounding and what affects your life.
Informal, bottom-up planning, as well as temporary flexible structures, has the potential to circumvent big scale economical failure. The informal working as a test-site for what should be sedimented and what should not.

(originally written 120415)