Our latest working paper focuses on a key source of demand-pull that has led to Golden Ages in previous revolutions: a paradigmatic shift in society’s image and practice of the ‘good life’. These changes in lifestyle, underpinned by the new technologies and fostered by government policy, have, in each case, led to investment, employment and innovation, counterbalancing the inevitable deskilling and job reduction brought by the ‘creative destruction’ processes of each revolution. In the working paper, we look at why this is the case; examine the lifestyle shifts that have occurred in previous technological revolutions; and analyse the interplay between markets and policy-making in each shift. The paper was written to appear as a chapter in Europe 2050: Rethinking Europe (forthcoming), a publication created by the Austrian Council for Research and Technology Development, which will be released as part of Austria’s assumption of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2018.
Enjoyed the paper and it’s helpful for a book I’m writing. Two points. I suggest you may have under played the role of rational planning in the American post war boom; and thus the impact of its rejection by left leaning libertarians as well as neo liberals in the late 1970s. Milton Friedman and Jane Jacobs are odd bedfellows, but both had Robert Strange McNamara in their sights. Second, seems to me that we are witnessing the coming of centripetal society, where many key trends are the obverse of suburbanisation, in transport modal shift, cultural bias and city centre living. These have been driven by higher education and shifts in the labour market – and could be accelerated by machine intelligence.
Thanks for your thoughts, and apologies for the delay in responding. Glad to learn you found it useful.
I’m grateful for your comment on our omission of ‘rational planning’ and its rejection; it is very helpful to get more information from specialist disciplines. Your point has led Tamsin and I to further reading on the topic and we would both welcome the opportunity to discuss it with you beyond this comments section.
As to the centripetal trend, I agree with you, although perhaps I give more importance to the role of technology in both the previous centrifugal and the current obverse. To me the automobile revolution resulted in the complete opening of the territory to suburban use. The railways had defined it in the previous revolution, so that cities and railway stations determined the valuable and useful land, while discarding as cheap the land that was only accessible by horse, by bicycle or on foot. So, in the world of railways and city transport, the movement towards the connected centres made both economic and practical sense. The individual automobile eliminated the transport constraint, so that cheap houses could be built on cheap land and therefore made it possible for the middle class and the workers to become homeowners and mass consumers. By now, though, the daily torture of long commuting and the environmental challenges are making suburbia undesirable. So, yes, higher education and shifts in the labour market are part of the cause, but perhaps by looking at technology we could see a more complex spatial future.
My belief – and I would value your opinion on this – is that we might be going towards not just a centripetal movement towards the cities, but also (later) a centrifugal movement towards the rural areas. I see the internet as redefining the territory once more. By ignoring distance and allowing effective communication as well as seamless trade in intangibles, it could complement the increasingly crowded cities with a flight to the countryside. Very low cost land with good internet connection (perhaps by satellite) can become a refuge for distance working and a high quality of life for some, with the sort of community living that is ever more difficult in the urban context. Would solar powered electric cars take people to the nearest railway station to go to the city every once in a while? Could this become more than a very small minority phenomenon and relieve the cities of excess population pressure?
Another question: could suburbia be saved by a redefinition of its nature, from dormitory towns to production hubs? City farming (hydroponic and other high tech models); artistic communities (avoiding the cost of housing in the city); boarding schools (either high schools for young people or various areas of adult education); health centres (hospitals, old age hospices, good living training or centres to overcome alcohol or drug addiction) and any other activity that can justify enough local employment and sporadic rather than daily movement of users and providers of the services?