Twenty-five years after this book appeared and ten years after Quebec's second referendum on sovereignty in 1995, Jane Jacobs graciously agreed to an interview about Quebec and her book. The interview was conducted in her home on Albany Street, inToronto's Annex district. Jane Jacobs talked freely for more than two hours with a forty-five minute break while she underwent physiotherapy fora hip ailment.
Q: How did people react to your 1979 Massey lectures and to the book, which came out in favour of sovereignty-association? Did the book get the coverage it deserved at the time?
A: Reactions were from Anglophones. I'm one. But I'm terrible at French. In fact, there was practically no reaction. My husband was a hospital architect and he was working on some hospitals in Alberta, and I told him to try to find out what they thought about separatism. He would come back on weekends. He said "well, I think I found out how they feel about separatism. I brought it up at lunch in the cafeteria, and everybody at the table was silent and then somebody said 'Let's change the subject'." The best thing is not to think about it. They don't even want to engage in talking pros and cons and why people feel this way.
Q: Does that explain the lack of reaction to your Massey lectures and your book?
A: It's the same attitude. Don't want to think about it. It's an unwelcome subject.
Q: What do you attribute that attitude to?
A: It's a fear. And this I don't have to guess at. Because there were lots of programs over the course of the two referendums and the general tenor of them was that if Quebec were to separate, then Canada would disintegrate. So that was the fear that there would be no identity anymore, for Canada. It was foolish, because there are so many examples of separatism, and nothing has disintegrated, unless they went to war.
Q: Do you mean that disintegration occurs when people go to war to oppose it?
A: There are a great many cases, I was counting them up to myself the other day, and couldn't even count the ones in central Asia, so many, and they end in *stan*. But even discounting those, there were over thirty of these cases in very recent times since Quebec, since the issue of Quebec was raised in 1980.
So we have to ask what's going on here? Why? I don't think this is pure coincidence. It's a phenomenon and it's widespread and it's so deeply felt. And there are so many different reasons the people feel to explain why they want to separate. But what do they have in common? And what is it all about? The world is usually not like this.
So trying to put together what they do have in common and what they don't have in common, here's what I come to. It's feedback from the world of some kind. What they have in common is that larger units are not satisfying people, they feel that these are out of control and what they seem to want in common and what they're happy about when they get it,and they calm down, which they do if they're not taken to war, is the satisfaction at last at having their own sovereignty.
You have to take examples. All except the would-be controlling states are very happy about this outcome. In the Balkan for instance, take the whole break-up of Serbia. The only people who are unhappy about it are the Serbs and they're unhappy because they're not in control of others any more.
But the Slovenes, the Croatians the rest of them are very glad to be independent.
Q: So teh danger is the will to control of would-be controlling states?
A: Yes and they're the ones that make war.
Q: Do you see Canada as a state that tends to control on this question?
A: Sure. English Canada has always wanted to control French Canada. English Canada conquered French Canada. So let's face the fact that this is a conquered country, and conquered countries often never forget what happened to them. Neither the conquered nor the conqueror ever really forget.
Now, I wrote about Norway. Norway was the very early example. And Norway and Sweden behaved in a wonderfull civilized manner. They could easily have gone to war. Tensions were very stressful prior to 1905. The other example of a very early case was in the United States, which was its own secession movement. And that did lead to war, the most hunaly destructive war that the United States has ever had. The highest death rate. That has never been forgotten. There it was in the last election The most recent election.  There's still the confederacy and the union. Wars don't settle these things.
Q: Violent or autocratic ways of opposing do not settle these things?
A: No. And the victor in these things always thinks they will but they never do.
Q: Is the Irish question similar where the British thought they would solve the problem by partitioning Ireland?
A: Yes, and they didn't solve it.
Q: You make a convincing case about the similarities between Sweden/Norway and Canada/Quebec. You write: "To its great credit, Sweden neither then nor afterward banned the Storting or tried to suppress its elections, never attempted to censor its debates or interfere in its communications with the Norwegian people, and did not poison NOrwegian political life with spies and secret police or corrupt it with bribes and informers." Can we say the same thing about Canada?
Q: Please expand.
A: Well let's see in those indictments you can't level at Sweden, they never tried to ban the constitution or undermine the settlement that they wanted. Well you can't say that of Canada. Any indication of revolt on thepart of Quebec was either bought off, with a good deal of corruption -- this is not a new thing [reference to sponsorship scandal]* -- or suppressed in some other way. And very often by trying to, and succeeding in, undermining the self-confidenceof Quebecers. That's exactly what [Pierre] Trudeau did. That was his whole method. And unfortunately [Rene] Levesque had so little self confidence in Quebec and in the people themselves, that he fell for that and, yes, he'd say, you know, it might be ruinous for us economically.
* The interview was conducted shortly after public hearings held by the Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities, known as the Gomery Commission. The "sponsorship scandal," which rocked the Government of Canada led by Jean Cretien, revealed that millions of dollars were funneled into Quebec to promote "Canadian identity" over Quebec identity. Leaders of Canada's Liberal Party and PR firms linked to it had also set up a kickback scheme to help fund election campaigns.
Q: So he feel for that because he lacked confidence in the Quebec people?
A: Yes and also because he didn't understand why things do collapse. It's usually a very banal reason why things do collapse. It's not a grand reason, why they collapse economically, at least in the West. The reason is usually that the entrepreneurial investors of the time just want to repeat themselves indefinitely and don't know when to stop. You can't do that. And so finally the housing boom, or the auto boom, or whatever it is that's been carrying things along, runs out of customers.
Q: And they haven't planned renewal or replacement?
A: Actually, replacement is not planned, it just happens. But they haven't found ways to encourage it. In fact they find ways to suppress the possibility of replacement. Just like the oil copanies now going in for the oil sands and at the cost of God knows how much money. Think what that same amount of money and encouragement would do with non-fossil fuels. But no, no!
I was at a party sitting beside a guy involved in tar sands. A man from Edmonton. I asked him why he was so confident. He said it was because of the price of oil. Then I asked if he would advise a young person to get involved with it for the rest of his life. Why was he confident? Well, he said, because China was interested. I replied: you know China has gotten into a lot of things that were wrong in the past century. Why are you so confident? Well he just is. He has an exploitative attitude towards China. Maybe they are suckers, but we've got a good thing going for a while. He didn't say so in so many words.
Q: You don't think he should be so confident?
A: No. I think the fundamentals are against the success. The veryfact that it costs so much to develop. That's not an argument in favour of it. That's against the law of diminishing returns. You can't bank on diminishing returns.
Q: Are you an economist by training? What is your formal training?
A: Very little. After I graduated from High School in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I didn't want to go to school any more. I was tired of school. I was getting very rebellious about it. My parent ssaid I didn't have to go to college. They said they had saved money if I wanted to, but that I didn't have to want to. I think that was very good. And after a few years of working, five years of work -- I was a young worker -- but I could work as a secretary because I had learned touch typing. I had also gotten out of school in Februrary, and so I had half a year for business school and so I learned a little more, and I was equipped to get a job as a secretary. So I went to New York. Also because Scranton was a coal town -- anthracite coal, superior coal. There were laws in New York that it was the only kind of coal that could be sold. During the First World War, all those regulations had been broken. So Scranton was in a depression on that account, soon after the First World War and well before the great depression set in.
Q: So you're self educated? All your theories and books, you've worked on that alone?
A: And with help from other people.
Q: In your recent book 'Dark Age Ahead' you have a chapter entitled "Credentialing versus Education." You feel that "credentialism" has been bad for education and prevents people from having the curiosity and the intellectual probity that allow them to develop new ideas.
A: I've gotten more and more radical on this myself. I have an entirely new hypothesis on how economies, macro-economies, form themselves and organize themselves, and where this kind of life comes from. But it's so different from the standard idea of economic life. But some people believe it because, for one thing, I haven't made up my new hypothesis, which I call "uncovering the economy". Everything in the hypothesis is out there, happening, and it accounts for so many things that are just slid over and ignored in regular economics. But I don't know, yes I do know why I do it. It's interesting in the first place; I think truth is more interesting than baloney.
Q: The original Massey lectures were entitled "Canadian Cities and Sovereignty-Association". In those lectures and in the book you come to support sovereignty because of your idea of how cities work. Do you think that what you wrote in 1980 about Montreal and Toronto has proven to be true? You posit that Quebec's need for Montreal to be a metropolis independent of Toronto requires that Quebec be able to operate independently. Do you think that still applies today?
A: Yes. And I think it is partly because of currencies, national currencies. And Toronto does swing the Canadian national currency, and that's often to the detriment, nobody's intention, just the automatic detriment to the cities it trades with.
Q: Because the value of the currency is established by what goes on in Toronto? So you favor a Quebec currency, though the way things are going with the Euro, would you still favor a Quebec currency?
A: Yes. And I think it's a mistake for the Europeans, the Western European countries, to blot out so many currencies in favour of who knows which one is going to win out. Maybe Frankfurt. It will not favour all the other countries. Europe had something really wonderful going for it with the different currencies. Look at all the development in Eruope over so many centuries, and yes they got into these wars and that pretty well ruined it. They also had an awful lot of relationships which didn't involve fighting each other, but involved learning from each other, and building on each other's successes.
Q: If you were in France now would you vote in favour of the European Constitution or against it?
A: I would be against it. But I don't see much use in being against it unless there's a great deal of talk and debate about it so that people are educated as to why, otherwise into the vacuum will come really nasty reasons of hatred and bigotry, etc.
Q: You get interviewed frequently by the media. Do they ask you about Quebec?
A: No. Practically never. You're the first one!
Q: Yet there are very few books in English that broach the subject as you do?
A: In my research, I couldn't find any in English that went into it.
Q: So people are not interested in knowing why you reached this conclusion. Do you know Montreal very well?
A: Not well. I've been there a few times. I think in Quebec journalists were a bit interested. Elsewhere no.
Q: Do you think that with the new buzzword of "Globalization" the situation has changed since the 1980s?
A: No. You know people ignore the common threads that run through economic life and we're still in the primitive early stages of these things. Globalization is one of the first things that ever showed up. Way back when trade began to revive after the Dark Ages, it was very international. Sardinia sold cheese to every European city and every available market, and nothing but cheese. I call places like that "supply regions". And I give an example of how powerful the force is when a lot of cities act as one, which they do, in getting what they want from a supply region.
Q: So this idea of globalization where the markets become international, it's basically the continuation of what's gone on?
A: Yes, globalization has gone on since around 1200 or so. It went on in classical times, before the Dark age.
Q: You are originally from the United States. How would you say the United States will react to a sovereign Quebec?
A: I think that people in Canada who are frightened may be right to the extent that the United States will try to take advantage of this and aggrandize and maybe scare Canadians into falling in with their plans. After all the United States is irked with Canada these days because it hasn't fallen in with its ware in Iraq.
Q: So the United States could try to take advantage of a weakened Canada?
A: They could try.
Q: You don't see that as inevitable?
A: No. And if it does do that, if they succeed in it, it will be only if Canada is so scared and docile that it allows it to happend.
Q: I've interviewed people with political power in English Canada for a book and they've said that Quebec cannot separate from Canada, because Canada would disappear. You don't give any credence to that unless Canada decides to give up?
A: Yes. Exactly. But of course, countries do that sometimes; they decide to give up. I feel some urgency in my new hypothesis, yet I'm so dubious it will be accepted. If it is, the wrong kinds of reasons will explain why it is accepted. So why bother, why interfere?
Well, I've had to ask myself that. Ordinary people are capable of wonderful economic things wihtout even knowing they're doing wonderful things. You know, the next thing is not planned. It just seems to happen. It is very seldom planned.
I would like it to be understood, and increasingly understood as time passes, that all our economic achievements all our human economic achievements have been done by ordinary people, not by exceptionally educated people, or by elites, or by supernatural forces, for heaven's sake. Yet without understanding this, people are all too willing to fall for the idea that they can't do this, they themselves, or anybody they know, because they're too ordinary.
Q: They're own self-image stops them from seeing that they can do something?
Q: Do you think that is what happened to Rene Levesque? That it was a lack of confidence in what he could have accomplished with the Quebec people?
Q: In your book Dark Age Ahead, you also talk of subsidiarity and fiscal accountability. Very interesting points! They too would argue once again in favor of Quebec sovereignty.
A: Absolutely. Look how the inability to face this and solve this in a civilized way is corrupting the whole country. [Reference to Gomery Commission and the sponsorship scandal; see note above].
Q: Please expand.
A: Well, one way that English Canada, or English authorities, or frightened authorities operating in Quebec, have tried to put this whole thing to rest, and say it's all settled, which it obviously is not, is to try to buy off Quebec. That seems the most promising way, more than the use of force. Trudeau, as I mentioned, managed this quite well. And it's the way of selling Quebec. Forget about sovereignty. Show them that their interest is somewhere else, their economic interest. It's largely a matter of buying Quebec. Well when you buy people, and particularly try to change their deep principles by buying them, it becomes very corrupt, automatically, by the nature of the transaction. They have to be kidded about what's happening to them.
Now a friend of mine who's been making some business trips to Montreal and has visited some of the sessions [of the Gomery Commission], says that it's very instructive to watch the Quebecers, and see how furious they are. Their faces are so set, they're not enjoying this, they're so angry. So I say, what are they angry at? In fact, they realize they've been had. They realize for the firt time, they've been had over and over again in the past.
Q: Would you agree that what the Liberal Party has been doing with the sponsorships is by no means a trivial matter?
A: Yes. It's been their policy. It continues to be their policy. They'll continue to do it. It's all they know how to do.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The name of my upcomin book will be "Uncovering the Economy" in 2006. And the next book ought to be a really fun one to write. It will be, "A Sad but Short Biography of the Human Race". SO far short. It's not my anticipation that we're into evolution for a short run, it will be long, but it's been short up till now. And we're much closer to our beginnings than we realize. We think we're so advanced.
I think that I was saying our economies haven't changed since the beginning and certainly globalization is not a new thing.
Q: Why do you think that economists, politicians, and public people bandy the word globalization about so much? This is a major change in discourse.
A: They love to think that things have changed so that they can forget all their mistakes and not have to explainthem any m ore: oh well because of globalization, the web, etc.
Q: Do you think the web has the effect of bringing people together or keeping people apart?
A: It brings some people together but it keeps others apart, just like language, just like other types of communication. And it's not nearly as revolutionary as language itself.
Q: Comparable to the printing press?
A: I don't think it's as important as that. Because with the printing press, just think what that meant to communications, and how fast it happened. There were sixty new publishers in Vienna, I think, in no time. And this had not been planned by anybody. One of these enormous changes that just seemed to occur when their time has come. When ordinary people start doing something, they don't really know that it's happening.
Q: When you say "anecdotal evidence is the only real evidence," what do you mean?
A: What other kind of evidence is there? There is statistical evidence in economics. But when do people get interested enough to do statistics? If you don't count things, you never have them. That's the problem. THere hasn't been enough interest to count what should be counted.
Q: People don't count the things that need to be counted?
A: Right, because they're not interested. They only get interested based on anecdotal evidence. That's the only evidence there is until people begin to get interested.
Q: And even statistical evidence is based on anecdotes, because statistical evidence is based on the story of somebody doing something..
A: And whatever it may be, it may be very tenuous, something that economists already do, like counting the amount of money in circulation. But why do they care? Some anecdote has piqued their curiosity.
Q: In political economy and political scinece, everything appears based on polls these days. Don't you find that that flies in the face of what you say about the importance of anecdotal evidence? People bring out the latest polls to prove something.
A: And polls can be rigged according to the kind of question that is asked. But some sort of anecdotal vidence has piqued the curiosity to ask the question. 61 percent of Canadians believe bla-bla. Where did the idea of bla-bla come from? The all-powerful creator? It comes from stories people tell.
Q: You make that point strongly in Dark Age Ahead in the wake of the heat wave in Chicago?*
A: And I've never gotten any feedback from that. And I do think that it's quite frevealing that Chicago thing. The problem in Chicago was due to "credentialism". It was prescribed and the wrong prescription. But all those who did the study had their credentials.
* In Dark Age Ahead Jane contrasts an official study whose "findings are worse than useless" on the high number of deaths among the elderly poor in Chicago during a heat wave with that of a young sociology graduate who then published a book entitled Heat wave, A Social Autopsy of a Disaster in Chicago. The young sociology graduate 'spoke with fresh truths drawn from the real world", according to Jacobs
Q: The Yes side campaigned in the 1995 Quebec referendum on the slogan "oui et ca devient possible," "Vote yes and it will be possible". Symbols or images of peace, work, flowers or a map of the world represented what would be possible. In your opinion, what would become possible if Quebec were sovereign?
A: Well. Lots of things are not possible for municipalities, suburbs, or collections of them now. Theyare not possible and they would become possible, because they would have more authority. They would hav ethe same authority as a province now.
Q: If Quebec became sovereign, Montreal and Quebec City would be granted greater power?
A: Yes well, there would be one level of government that would be missing, one less level of government. The municipality would become the second level.
One of our troubles now is that we try to make municipalities that are totally different from each other all act as if they were the same kind of creature, with the same kinds of possibilities. Not so. Some of the large ones in Quebec can contain within them most of the answers to their own practical problems. And so lots of different possibilities for doing things in a practical and different way become available.
It's not true of very small places. They just don't have the skills, the connections, the diversity.
Q: You refer to Montreal's becoming a regional city with regard to Toronto. If Quebec were sovereign, would Montreal take on a different role within Quebec?
A: Just the way in Europe, Paris, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, and Frankfurt, possibly and Berlin, certainly, all had important roles, because of independence. Because they were depending on themselves.
Q: Not feeders for another metropolis?
A: You see, cities never flourish alone. They have to be trading with other cities. My new hypothesis shows why. But also in trading with each other they can't be in too different stages of development, and they can't copy one another. Backward cities, or younger cities, or newly forming cities in supply regions, have to develop toa great extent on one another's shoulders. This is one of the terrible things about empires. Empires want them only to trade with the empire, which doesn't help them at all. It's just a way of exploiting them.
Q: Would you describe the logic of the relationship between Toronto and Montreal, the Golden Horseshoe and Quebec, as one that resembles that of an empire?
Q: The way to break that logic is for Quebec to become independent and be able to trade equally with Toronto? You also say we have to stop fantasizing that English Canada could shut out Quebec as the United States did to Cuba because it would be harmful for everybody?
A: Sure it would be harmful. A good trading situation can't be done without a certain amount of independence. It can't be done constructively. Instead of being a win-win situation, which a good trading situation is, it becomes too competitive, it becomes a lose-win situation, maybe even a lose-lose situation.
Q: You mena if there's not a cooperative situation established?
A: In its very essence, healthy trade is a win-win situation.
When people who get their jollies and interest out of life by fighting only with other people, they're very poor traders. They only want to dominate, instead of finding a way that everybody benefits. So in that sense globalization is not the same as it was in some innocence past.
Q: Because globalization has come to involve domination?
A: It's come more and more to involve domination. And that doesn't work and so the imperial power, which is now the US, collapses.
Q: Do you foresee that?
Q: What kind of horizon?
A: The collapse will start out as a banal thing. These investing entrepreneurs, want to keep doing the same thing they've always been doing. There aren't enough customers for condominiums at one point. So it gets to be a business cycle. An interesting thing about business cycles is that they don't exist in small or backward economies. They only exist in city economies, in advanced economies, and that's an interesting thing. Why is it? Another thing for "Uncover the Economy" to find out. It's the same in that respect as the explosive growth in cities. Things have reasons for being.
Economics, orthodox economics, is a travesty, a joke. Nothing to do with reality, it has to do with wishes. What we wish the economy to be. It's not related to what we see in real life, or explaining any of these mysteries.
Q: You wrote The Question of Separatism, Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty in 1979 and 1980. If you were to writ eit again today, would you come to the same conclusions?
A: Yes, not becase it's in my head, but because that's the way it is in the world, and it still holds.