4. Jacobsean economics, city reification and inter-locking networks In Wallerstein’s (1980, 45) discussion of Dutch hegemony he uses the high degree of urbanization as a ‘confirmation of vitality’ of the Dutch. In this formulation ‘urbanization’ is an outcome of the economic development of a particular state, the ‘Dutch Republic’. In contrast, for Jacobs (1984) it is cities and their regions that shape economic life, not vice versa. Thus orthodox economics transfixed by ‘the potpourris we call national economies’ (p.35) operates in a ‘fool’s paradise’ of economic decision-making. Cities, not ‘nations’, constitute economies. It is in city economies that economic growth spirals are generated in an input-substitution process that creates waves of ‘development’ into the city’s hinterland and surrounding regions. This geohistorical process is not a property of all cities: many cities are ‘passive’ wherein economic change is a product of outside influences. However, for Jacobs those special cities that are economically vibrant change not just themselves but transform whole regions. Given that we have argued that seventeenth century Dutch cities changed the world, they must qualify as mega examples of this type of economy!
We must be careful in using such models not to reify the city or city-region. Cities, of course, do not of themselves create economies. Abrams (1979) is particularly useful in reminding us of this and attacks the use of concepts such as ‘generative city’ and ‘parasitic city’ as popularised by some development literature. Cities are not agencies of economic change and he takes Braudel to task for sometimes lapsing into this type of thinking (Abrams 1979, 17). The agents of economic change are the holders of capital and it is their decisions that are vital for economic growth or stagnation. The fact that these agents congregate massively in cities, and that the most important of them in relatively few selected cities, does beg the question as to how cities are implicated in this economic life. City economies are the lifeblood of economic growth because they are special places where multifarious information and knowledge are specifically available to seize economic opportunities through innovations in production, distribution or consumption. Successful city economies are learning and reflexive economies (Storper 1997), knowledge-rich matrixes of business, banking, professional and creative agents that cannot be easily duplicated in other places. Smith (1984) has described seventeenth century Amsterdam as just such an ‘information exchange’.
One final element has to be added to our interpretation of cities within economic life. There is no such thing as an isolated city; cities exist in relation to other cities as the collective ‘crossroads of society’. Cities within a single world-economy can thus be viewed as a city network. But it is an unusual type of network, one that is commonly termed an interlocking network (Taylor 2001). Because we do not reify the city, unlike other networks the inter-nodal relations are not the direct product of the nodes (cities) themselves. Rather nodes are ‘interlocked’ by sub-nodal agents, in the case of cities by the connections among the business interests that define both city economies and their network. For instance, in Braudel’s (1984) discussion of city-centred world-economies in late medieval/early modern Europe, families and firms from a given city have economic agents located in other cities to negotiate, organise and report back intelligence thus providing ‘interlocks’ between the firm’s ‘home city’ and the other cities. It is this interlocking multiplied manifold that creates a city network as the basic spatial organization of a world-economy.
Incorporating Jacobs’ heretical economics into our analysis allows us to revisit two important debates on the seventeenth century Dutch from a specifically city-orientated perspective. These debates concern whether the Dutch created a new territorial state or just another city-state, and whether their foreign policies can be classified as mercantilist.