by Tyler Cowen
on May 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm
in Books, The Arts
That is one of Virginia Postrel’s best books, you can now buy it on Kindle for $2.99. Mine is the second Amazon review, Jerry Brito’s is first.
Hey Tyler, which chapter in The Occupy Handbook teaches you how to blow up bridges in Cleveland?
VP makes cogent points, as does your review. As we get richer, we are able to spend more on aesthetics beyond mere functionality — the higher terraces of the Maslow pyramid, as it were. This is one reason I expect cities of the future to resemble Things to Come more than Blade Runner, at least in the sense of being designedly artistic. One can argue either that we don’t have the surplus to put into the large scale now, or that our public sector is incompetent (these are not necessarily contradictory), but it’s possible to imagine (and hope) that both conditions are a passing phase.
Blade Runner’s aesthetic reflected a highly class and ethnically stratified capitalist society. Given class divisions between groups able and willing to defer rewards and plan ahead and groups unable and unwilling to do so, we should expect to see different levels of investment and upkeep of the physical environment between communities.
Also, Maslow’s pyramid assumes that physiological needs and personal health and safety should precede environmental and aesthetic concerns as you mentioned. However, as medical technology improves – or at least if it improves – we would expect that greater affluence should accrue to health care and biotechnology and not towards physical infrastructure. Which is what we already see today.
According to the biography on her Dynamist.com web site–and consistent with my memory–Virginia Postrell has published exactly two books. Both are probably good, but saying that one of the two is “one of her best” is strange and possibly misleading.
That’s what I thought, too (though number 3 is almost finished). If you need a third, I did also edit a volume of Reason articles with Bob Poole.
She probably owns a ton of books.
When I clicked the link and wasn’t signed in, it was 3.12. When I signed in, it became 2.99. Interesting!
I haven’t read the book, so my guess is that the point I’m about to make is tangential at best.
Having said that – it strikes me that a key reason that you see a proliferation of aesthetically pleasing products is simply because making things has gotten cheap. It is as expensive to make something with a good design as it is to make something with a terrible design. Think about music player interfaces – once someone has spent the time to figure out what a good design looks like, its pretty easy for others to copy it. T-shirts prints, or the proliferation of great typefaces on the internet are other good examples.
The hard part about aesthetics is in developing it the first time. As economies grow (without major disruptions), enormous amounts of aesthetic understanding build up. What would it take for
Think about how hard it is for an artist to surprise you today, and invert the idea. Its very easy for someone to figure out what is pleasing – because there is so much rich material shared out there.
We won’t return to Mao’s grey pajamas, because the cost difference to make that vs. a more stylish pattern and color is trivial.
Of course styles change, but as long as you have the ability to retain and share information cheaply, it will be easy enough to pattern match new styles against their commonality with past styles.
Which is to say the Substance of Style is simply cheap information sharing coupled with cheap manufacturing.
Can I get the icon in cornflour blue?
Economic puzzle of the day: why is the Kindle version of The Substance of Style not available to Amazon users in Australia (and presumably a number of other countries)? Is this some sort of copyright treaty artefact?
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