Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Where is the Pie?

Before asking where it is, we may first need to ask, "what is the pie?" Turns out both questions are a bit slippery. The pie may signify the total resources available in a specified area (the Earth, the United States, California, San Francisco, the Western Addition, Divisadero Street, the 500 block of Divisadero, etc.) or perhaps the pie merely signifies the monetary value attributed to a certain economy (ie. the GDP) or market (ever hear someone lament the Dow's shrinkage?). The pie is not easily definable, but how we think about the pie (see below Economies of Scale: oranges) affects what it is.

There is a feeling among many that we must increase the pie. To some people this means increasing consumer spending. Consumers spend more thereby fueling production, increasing the value of the stock market, etc. All is good.* We must wonder though: as the pie increases, as GDP rises, and the Dow reaches new heights, are people actually becoming more resourceful? Are we finding new ways to maximize the value of our limited natural and human resources or are we merely imagining fictitious values? And just where is the pie anyway?

Does the pie live somewhere on Wall Street or in Washington, D.C.? If all of the major banks are healthy and AIG survives its self-fulfilling scare and the mega-corporations of the world begin to give and receive money again, will the pie suddenly regrow before our eyes? Or is the pie more personal than that: does the pie represent our individual opportunities for success or our access to food and jobs, credit and health care?

It is all sort of dizzying to think about, especially for the good old common man, waking in the morning to head to the factory/store/office and picking up a slice of pie on the 1st and 15th. If the Dow is up, says he, my employer is happy and I keep my job, so I am happy. If the Dow is down, woe is me. And he is right! His prospects for financial survival are so heavily intertwined with world markets and macro-financing trends that some remote pie-measurement system (the Dow) does seem important. The pie is centralized. It matters little what potential the good old common man (or the common family/the common community/the common city) actually has, if he is always waiting on the holders of the pie to make a move.

Although the resources of the world (people, land, oil, minerals) are decentralized, our conception of the pie--and the monetary units that represent its worth--are quite centralized. When we think about the pie, we are more likely to think about the stock market than the physical places that we inhabit and the natural resources surrounding us.

Does this matter? you may ask. I would argue yes: mos' definitely. If we invest the bulk of our resources in centralized "markets" with only indirect connections to the particular places in which we live, then we are in effect choosing not to invest in the real, tangible places in which we live, work and play (remember the pseudo-footnote re: opportunity costs). Although many people invest a great deal of money in their home, how many invest locally aside from that? We may "invest" as consumers, but the mindset of the consumer is a passive one. If urban areas are to thrive, investment must come back home.

*Unless of course, consumers could be more resourceful in another role. Each decision involves a shadow of the decision unmade, often referred to as opportunity cost. Thanks to Kendall Dix (http://kendix.blogspot.com) for this ingenious footnoting method.

1 comment:

  1. I was referred to this blog by your dad.

    I have just submitted a patent pending application for an IT tool that would encourage and monitor walking. It has public health, urban planning, and medicine aspects to it.

    Specialists write about an obesogenic environment. To me that is an environment that keeps you at home because there is nothing to do or see outside.

    In terms of our pie, we have spent too much money investing in high tech hospitals taking care of the diseases of lifestyle created by our habits, preferences, choices, and environment.

    We have 150 million overweight and obese individuals in the USA and 190 automobile drivers. Think of the infrastructure we have created for the automobile driver. We need to spend more on the walking human being.

    I would want to share my idea with anyone who would want to listen. I now need assistance to make this happen.

    I wanted to be an urban planner at one time. I am now unifying my medicine, public health, and urban planning interests.

    Bohdan A. Oryshkevich

    or just google me.