Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs

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As the author of the ground-breaking book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs's insights are given great weight. In Dark Age Ahead, Jacobs turns her attention to five major problem areas that she claims have dire consequences:

  1. Families are weakening because of the high cost of housing, required automobile transportation, and eroding social connections because of isolation and stress.
  2. The trend in higher education is to focus on credentialing as opposed to supporting and fostering passionate learning and knowledge.
  3. The scientific process of hypothesis testing has been abandoned in favor of dogmatic statements. As an example, Jacobs uses traffic engineers (pp. 73-76) who refuse to look at the behavior of traffic but instead hold beliefs about traffic flow that have no basis in reality.
  4. Bad tax policies lack subsidiarity ("government works best... when it is closest to the people it serves and the needs it addresses" (p. 103)) and fiscal accountability ("the principle that institutions collecting and disbursing taxes... are transparent to those providing the money" (p. 103)).
  5. Self-policing by professionals, academics, and others in trusted positions has been abandoned in favor of deception, collusion, and lies to further careers and gain money.

Jacobs' main point is that inattention to these issues can lead to vicious spirals of feedback which spill over into other areas of life. These issues impact many urban concerns, and Jacobs uses her hometown of Toronto in many areas of the book to illustrate the worsening spirals.

For solutions, Jacobs points to the dangers of central government planning by either the left or right because it "draws too little on local knowledge and creativity, stifles innovations, and is inefficient and costly because it is circuitous" (p. 117). Jacobs views the local, creative, honorable forces that form good communities as key to holding the dark ages back.

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