Obama’s book. Get it or forget it?
Obama’s end-of-year review is great, but titles can be misleading. Here are two reasons to get a copy of ‘The New Geography of Jobs’, and two reasons to forget it.
This is Enrico Moretti’s look at the addled distribution of wealth and prosperity across America. Six years ago, when it was first released, Forbes described it as “the most important read of 2012” – and I don’t think Moretti’s conclusions would change today. It’s illuminating but, at the same time, it’s frustrating.
It’s good. It’s really good. REASON ONE TO GET IT: It tackles the hard-arsed theory of urban economics in an easy-to-follow narrative, and it’s a lighter read than many you’ll find on the same shelf. The New Geography of Jobs dives into the depths of its own argument pretty much from page one, but if you didn’t go to Harvard (or that other great educational institution of the northern hemisphere, the University of East Anglia), then it won’t overwhelm you.
In essence, Moretti’s point is this: the achievement potential between greater and lesser educated regions has been exacerbated in recent times, and – not surprisingly – there’s a vicious, infinite circle that sees the unemployment rates in one generation relating to, and squashing, the achievement potential of the next. That, in turn, is leading to the rise of three distinct territories in America. The so-called productive ‘brain hubs’; the manufacturing-oriented ‘production capitals’; and everywhere in-between.
In short, this evolution in the distribution of population and wealth has been happening at a phenomenal rate, and, in the process, it’s created an inward-looking challenge for itself. REASON TWO TO GET IT: Moretti’s book will make you rethink the value and consequences of locating a business here – or there. It’s a thought-provoking insight to the notion that innovative businesses thrive when they’re all in a closely-connected ecosystem but, somewhat ironically, that means the innovation doesn’t spread, outwards, into other areas that need it most.
[Not from the book. But LOOK AT THAT MAP.]
The truth of the matter is, in America, those close-knit ‘brain hubs’ have become so attractive and subsequently over-priced as a location, they’ve deterred many ‘nearly, but not quite’ firms from setting up shop in the same area. Innovation becomes a victim of its own success. Hoist by its own petard, and lost, behind its own moral compass.
REASON ONE TO FORGET IT: The potential for geographic information as part of the solution to the problem is, ahem, a tad over-looked. The New Geog-of-Jobs doesn’t sound a klaxon for using geospatial insights to reverse that inequality. Which is a shame. It’s a big step in the right direction, but it almost needs another book in response as the next step in the journey.
My guess is that Obama found the book fascinating, simply because it makes the problems easy to understand at a macro level – explaining economic influences within territories; breaking down the challenge into understandable areas.
Moretti tells us that dealing with the split – finding a way to nurture growth at all levels equally in those three areas, while at the same time nurturing innovation and encouraging it to spiral outwards, thereby arresting further decline elsewhere – is the economic (and political) challenge of the century. Right up Obama’s street. Looking back at his speeches, I’d hazard a guess that he first read it in 2013 and then re-read it in 2015.
REASON TWO TO FORGET IT: It’s perfect for 45: it’s all words, no pictures. No seriously; I don’t mean that facetiously. It’s not a map book, it’s not a geographic information book, and it’s not what I’d call a data-book, either. It’s economics, pure and simple.
To be honest, I’d prefer to get another copy (I’ve given mine away), of Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark – also on Obama’s list – which gave me all the juice I needed for a dozen dystopian short stories.