Whoever visits New York feels as he does in a watchmaker’s shop; everybody goes there for the true time, and feels on leaving it as if he had been wound up or regulated anew… He hears a clicking, as it were, on all sides of him, and finds everything he looks at in movement, and not a nook or corner but what is brimful of business. Apparently there is no inactivity; that is, no person is quiescent both in body and mind at once. — Theodore Dwight, 1833
What Dwight said of New York 172 years ago still rings true of the place today. Reflecting on my return from the richest, most powerful city in the world while doing dishes at home, I think about the impact that the city has had on the national fabric and the culture of America. New York City invented concepts that lay the foundation for modern business: scheduled shipping, the stock market, and the very notion that time was money. How much money was I wasting by doing my own dishes?
Hamilton imagined a nation whose wealth would come not from farms, plantations, and slave labor but from cities like New York– from banking, commerce, manufactured goods, and immigrant toil. –Ric Burns, et al
Thoughts within my own mind are the same one that kept Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson at loggerheads. Jefferson was deeply distrustful of cities and saw the future of the nation and its future wealth coming from the country. He described cities as “cloacina[s] of all the depravities of human nature,” cloacina apparently referring to the Roman goddess of sewers. The disagreement between the two famous minds ended in a rather unshrewd and myopic compromise on the part of Jefferson wherein he agreed to open the door to Hamilton’s economic system in exchange for the Capitol to be moved to the swamp that is now Washington DC under the foolish assumption that it would forestall the growth of urban dominance in American life. The same debate between the two men would be the foundation of the Civil War, and is at the core of modern disagreements on globalism and the unease that the world feels at a sense of American economic and cultural imperialism.
Interestingly, while global capitalism has decided without a doubt that the values of New York should dominate in American life and modern business, the debate is far from over in a place like India. The observant are all too familiar with the problems of this system, and can see them in extreme form when visiting the big cities of India that have already replicated and amplified the problems of the West. Yet the voice of an older, truer India is still heard in big cities and small hamlets across that nation that pleads for a sanity from those not yet in$ane. Whereas business has informed our values in America, there’s still a huge opportunity for values to inform business in India.
After all, New York is fun to visit, but living there is a different story.