Cities as markets—markets as cities

Over at Market Urbanism (one of my favourite sites) economist Sandy Ikeda has a post on the links between markets and cities. In it he references a bunch of recent writing on the links between markets and cities: "Cities aren’t merely convenient locations for markets; a living city (which I’ll define in a moment) is a market, and the first cities probably originated as markets."

He points to Jane Jacobs' view that cities' strength is in their diversity: both in terms of land use—Le Corbusier look away—and in terms of their inhabitants. With different tastes, opinions, skills, abilities, and so on individuals can satisfy each other's demands and preferences. But it goes further:

Now, standard economics teaches us that the differences among economic actors allow them to specialize and trade for mutual gain. This principle is called “comparative advantage,” which is the idea that people should choose those lines of production in which they are the most efficient. That’s fine as far as it goes.
But more importantly Jacobs, and indeed most Austrian economists, see the essence of markets as not merely places that promote efficiency, but as places in which entrepreneurial competition spurs the discovery of new things. That discovery process entails fundamental changes in culture as well as in economic development. Joseph Schumpeter’s phrase “gales of creative destruction” better captures the essence both of living cities and of markets than the standard economic notions of efficiency, comparative advantage, and low-cost production, as important as those are in their limited context.
Living cites and successful markets bring intellectually and culturally diverse people together to their mutual advantage, but they also create conditions in which vast amounts of novel information—about science, technology, religion, music, the arts, and lifestyles—get dispersed very rapidly. That in turn allows all kinds of people, the ordinary and the extraordinary, to experiment and to make new connections among all that information, generating even more diversity and attracting even more people. In this way, cities become “incubators of ideas” and economic growth. The process is highly dynamic, but also very messy and, yes, in a sense inefficient. Most experiments fail. But someone who fails in a city, unlike her counterpart in less-urbanized cultures, need not starve as a result, and there is more likely to be some new opportunity just around the corner.  We see the successes that drive innovation, but the failures are important, too.

Read the whole thing!