About a week ago, a fake Paul Krugman account appeared on Google+, and ever since, the internet has been abuzz with the broken window theory/fallacy. If you don’t know what the Broken Window theory is, here are two good videos explaining (and then debunking) it below. If you don’t know who Paul Krugman is (and you’re not alone), you can click a link here.
Keep in mind that the only reason the “fake Krugman” got any traction, at all, was because he said things the real Paul Krugman might be apt to say. This link can provide insight.
So, what does this have to do with the Freedom Tower? Allow me to expound. Fox News has been running a segment that they call The Rise Of Freedom for the past several months that chronicles the rebuilding of One World Trade Center. (I still refer to it as the Freedom Tower) Every time that I see one of these specials, I’m struck by how “modern” these new buildings look in contrast to the rest of the New York City skyline. And that’s made me think of something… But first, I’ll leave one of these segments for you to watch below.
Here is what I’ve been thinking about. For the past several years, many Americans have been infatuated with the buildings in many foreign countries and cities. Sometimes it’s even come across as a sort of envy, and if I may, I’d like to briefly touch on that.
America is great. But America is not always “fancy”. We are a practical nation. We think in terms of dollars and square feet. That’s probably why even “poor” people in this country have such a nice standard of living. With that said, it is possible for people to sometimes pine for the aesthetics of buildings in other cultures. I would assert, however, that these people have not sat down and fully pondered on “why” cityscapes differ so greatly from country to country.
When it comes to “beautiful” cities, there seem to be two camps. The historic cities like Paris or Prague and the modern cities like Hong Kong or Shenzhen. While the United States has plenty of historic buildings, most pale when compared to those of “old” Europe. And when it comes to modern buildings, we often lag behind Asian counterparts. And there’s reason for that.
Old Europe was imperial Europe, and a lot of those buildings were built with ill gotten gains. If you think the “rich” have all the nice stuff now, you would have hated to live in the Middle Ages. And when it comes to modern cities, China’s Shenzhen was a village in 1970. Look at it now.
Now, none of this is to say that America does not have beautiful cities, but there is a “reason” that (some) people are constantly plagued with some sort of (dare I say) irrational inferiority complex concerning our cities. America falls in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to modern and/or historic buildings. And you know what they say about the middle child…
So, back to Paul Krugman. Three days after 9/11, he wrote this piece that you can still find on the New York Times website. It’s a callous piece of work, and one that I don’t plan on getting into too much detail on right now, but here’s a snippet to let you know what his line of thinking was at the time. (words in orange are my emphasis)
So the direct economic impact of the attacks will probably not be that bad. And there will, potentially, be two favorable effects.
First, the driving force behind the economic slowdown has been a plunge in business investment. Now, all of a sudden, we need some new office buildings. As I’ve already indicated, the destruction isn’t big compared with the economy, but rebuilding will generate at least some increase in business spending.
In case you don’t catch his drift, the Nobel Prize winning writer I have quoted above was basically saying, “Well, at least there will be construction jobs now that we have a gaping hole in the Earth to fill.” And that’s just cold. It’s beyond callous. And to be honest with you, I am shocked that a New Yorker would voice that opinion within less than a week of such a horrific event. I didn’t even live in New York, and I was still grieving at the time this article was published. But… the purpose of this post is not to tell you how despicable of a man Paul Krugman comes off to be. Many other people have already covered that.
Instead, I’m more or less speaking out loud and sharing thoughts that I’ve had on my mind. It’s not that Krugman was “right”, and it’s not that building the Freedom Tower is “good”. But I have realized in a somewhat sickening observation that the tallest and most modern buildings in our country will have come from the result of an unspeakable evil. And my feelings on this are mixed. On one hand, I want to embrace these new towers, and especially their monuments, as a way of healing, because I think that they will be good for our national psyche. But on the other, I wish they would never have been built at all. To be honest, that’s my strongest notion. I’d rather they not need to be built at all.
In the end, it looks like Mr. Krugman will ultimately get his wish. There will be some “new office buildings” and probably some money from tourism too. (I intend to go) But no matter how much “good” comes from this broken window, we’d be almost broken, ourselves, to celebrate such a plight.