A World Made for Money: Economy, Geography, and the Way We Live Today

A World Made for Money: Economy, Geography, and the Way We Live Today

A World Made for Money: Economy, Geography, and the Way We Live Today

A World Made for Money: Economy, Geography, and the Way We Live Today


A spirited and incisive survey of economic geography, A World Made for Money begins with the author stopped at a red light in Norman, Oklahoma. Observing the landscape of drugstores and banks, and for that matter the stoplight and roads themselves, Bret Wallach observes, "Everything I see has been built to make money" or, at the very least, to facilitate making money. This, he argues, is a global phenomenon that nonetheless has occurred only within the past hundred years or so. Although guidebooks and culture brokers often disparage these landscapes of commerce, Wallach--recipient of a MacArthur "genius grant"--argues that we would do well to pay them close attention.

A World Made for Money provides a compelling, condensed tour of our world. From Silicon Valley to Sri Lanka, from post-Soviet Russia to post-apartheid South Africa, Wallach looks at how human beings are buying, manufacturing, working, growing and shipping food, and accessing the natural resources to fuel it all. These essential facets of daily life, propelled by the profit motive, represent a transnational force shaping our surroundings and environment in ways that may not always be beautiful (or even healthy) but that are fundamental to understanding how the world works in the twenty-first century. Wallach examines the relationship between acquisitiveness and landscape, reveals surprising contradictions and nuances, and provides fresh perspective on politically charged topics such as sprawl, deindustrialization, and agribusiness.


I’m stopped at a traffic light in the college town where I live. It’s a recently renovated intersection, an expanse of new and very white concrete about a hundred feet square, six lanes crossing four, plus right- and left-turn lanes. One corner is occupied by a Walgreens. Kitty-corner there’s a cvs. They seem evenly matched, but the Walgreens parking lot has two or three times as many cars as the cvs lot. I don’t know why. Walgreens is open twenty-four hours a day, but can that explain the difference? It’s a puzzle.

A third corner is occupied by a bank built a few years ago on the site of an old gas station and low-rent convenience store. I forget the bank’s name, but I have an excuse: this town of 150,000 people has at least fifteen banks, some with several branches. It must not take a lot of money to open a bank, because I saw this bank under construction and, with the exception of the vault, it’s a balloon-framed wood building faced with brick and trimmed with synthetic stone. Apart from the tower adorned with a nearly illegible clock, the building might be mistaken from where I’m stopped for a new house.

The fourth corner is more unusual. It’s occupied by a freestanding dentist’s office built to look like a small-town railway station in the Old West. It has another tower and another clock, but beneath the clock there’s a sign stating the elevation to the hundredth of a foot. the owner, it seems, is a serious railway buff. in front of the building there’s even a full-sized wooden model of a funnel-stacked, woodburning locomotive.

There used to be a restaurant on the site. It was part of a chain and had been built about fifteen years earlier. It served Southernstyle meals—mostly fried chicken—throughout the day. Eventually . . .

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