Review: The Self-Organizing Economy
Very suggesting and thought-provoking, the book was written as a spinoff of conferences Krugman gave, very much in the style of “Geography and Trade” (1992). This means the tone is very informal, making it somehow easier to grasp. He also takes a less serious approach than he would if this was academic writing, so I’d place the book between academic (some of the ideas are not trivial to get) and pop science, as the other review notes.
His main aim is to link some of his earlier economic geography models, adapted to an intra-urban context, with the literature in complexity and emerging systems. To my knowledge it’s one of the very few attempts in the direction of giving some economic foundations to many econo-physics ideas applied to cities. Having said that, I don’t fully buy the whole idea, I think whenever he gets the closest to complexity (Fourier chains, etc.) he looses the economic background, defeating the purpose a bit; also his tone in some pages, repeating the word “complex” more than he probably should doesn’t help and makes you feel he’s trying to trick you rather than honestly convincing you. The basic idea however is very appealing and it scratches the surface of a fruitful field, still open today in my opinion.
All in all, the book clearly has Krugman’s print at his most academic side in that it’s very clearly written and he follows his usual approach of light math and heavy content: don’t be misled by its 130 pages, the density of ideas and creativity per page makes them feel much longer. Good reference if you are in need of some extravagant ideas to think outside the mainstream economics box.