Mapping Farmers Markets

New Geography contributor Richard Reep has written lately on the increasing activity of farmer's markets and how the financial crisis may boost local markets.

Here's a great interactive map at FortiusOne GeoCommons of a USDA database of national farmers markets.

Michigration Revisited

Only a few months ago, I admonished Michigan for its hysteria about brain drain. Given the recent news coverage concerning the exodus from the recession-plagued state, you might expect I’m ready to eat some crow. On the contrary, I’m here to report that Michigan has learned nothing from its past mistakes.

Richard Herman, an advocate for increasing rates of immigration to the Rust Belt, posts on his blog the same critique I have aired about how Michigan addresses its talent crisis:

However, the current focus on "brain drain" as the source of the problem misses the real issue.

While no doubt the Midwest economy is causing college grads who might otherwise want to stay home to leave, in an ever more mobile society, moving out is a natural part of people's lives. Indeed, if you read the typical account of how the elite global knowledge worker lives, you often hear about people flitting from place to place to place chasing opportunity.

The real problem is not that too many people are leaving, but rather that too few are coming. It isn't an outflow problem, it's an inflow problem.

The former urban industrial powerhouses of the United States all suffer from the same malaise. Every city is fixated on its local labor pool, asking institutions of education to staff the “factory.” The great irony is that economic growth doesn’t happen without immigration or domestic in-migration. There is no story of a great metropolis that successfully barred its people from leaving.

The tortured metaphor for brain drain stems from private enterprise. But even in the arena of human resources, the concept of churn isn’t an anathema:

The purpose of this article is to open your mind about the silliness of measuring only aggregate turnover. I can think of no better indication of a so-called expert’s lack of true understanding of employee turnover than when I read an article or a book on retention and the author invariably expounds on the need to keep everyone.

The burgeoning narrative is that churn benefits both employee and employer. The same is true for resident and state. Fear of the outsider prevents all parties from making a rational choice and improving human welfare.

Michigan should embrace its out-migration and aggressively seek new residents. I further recommend any reference to “retention” be abolished from official policy. Where, and how many, graduates go is largely immaterial. Instead of Cool Cities to keep Michigan talent instate; what would it take to get the next generation of engineers from Colorado schools or Asia to move to the Rust Belt?

Mortgage-Backed Securities: 1/3 not backed!

On April 3, 2009, R. Glen Ayers spoke at the American Bankruptcy Institute in Washington, D.C. Mr. Ayers is a former bankruptcy judge, now with the law firm Langley & Banack in San Antonio, Texas. He spoke on a subject I covered here on March 4 – not all mortgage backed securities are actually backed by mortgages. The rush to write more mortgages and to issue more bonds meant that mistakes were made in the paperwork.

The Ayers speech is connected to an article he wrote with Judge Samuel L. Bufford, who had the California case I mentioned last month where the mortgage note disappeared after being transferred to Freddie Mac. In the article, “Where’s the Note, Who’s the Holder”, they drop this bombshell: “A lawyer sophisticated in this area has speculated to one of the authors that perhaps a third of the notes ‘securitized’ have been lost or destroyed.” Meaning that 1/3 of the mortgage-backed securities are not backed by mortgages!

This is the junk that Treasury Secretary Geithner wants to finance the hedge funds to purchase. As of the end of 2008, there was $6,838.7 billion worth of government-backed mortgage bonds outstanding. An additional $178 billion were issued in the first two months of 2009.

Scary stuff. No wonder the hedge funds are giving Geithner’s Public-Private Investment Partnership “two thumbs-down.”


Catching on to Buffett

More of the so-called “mainstream press,” like the Sacramento Bee, are catching up to what we wrote here about Warren Buffett back on March 16. He supported the bailout because his investments benefited from the handouts.

It seems obvious that Washington takes policy advice from Buffett because he has lots of money. Newsweek reporter Mark Hirsch uncovered evidence, in fact, that Buffett may have been the one that came up with the original proposal for Treasury to buy the junk bonds off the banks’ balance sheets. Given the direction that Berkshire Hathaway’s own credit rating is going, Buffett may have even more reason to support this plan – his companies will be able to invest in the junk at discounted prices after they sell the junk to the government’s partnership funds at inflated prices!

Some of the comments at believe that the article is unfair to Buffett – after all, what company doesn’t support policies that will benefit them? But to the tune of $11.6 trillion, which is what the U.S. government has committed to this bailout? We bet even Karl Marx would find that excessive. We agree with the title of a book by William Black, an economist whose work we referred to in our own research on the Savings & Loan crisis – “The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One.” Professor Black discussed the financial crisis with Bill Moyers on April 3, 2009.

Berkshire Hathaway has significant ownership stakes in more than one bank. This brings us to an article at the Mises Institute, the libertarian think-tank. The article contains a link to an article from 1948 written by Warren’s dad when he was the U.S. Congressman from Nebraska – “Human Freedom Rests on Gold Redeemable Money.” The younger Buffett has a preference for the freshly printed stuff that Treasury is doling out.

Mayor Daley Offers Tips on Fighting Corruption

Is this a story from the Onion? No. Too Implausible. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Coming from as far away as Azerbaijan, dozens of corporate executives and government bureaucrats gathered at a downtown hotel Wednesday to hear Mayor Richard Daley share his tips for preventing corruption.

Absent from his speech at the international event was any talk of city hiring fraud, the Hired Truck program or the myriad other scandals that put Daley aides in federal prison or left them free pending appeals of official misconduct convictions.

In 2005, The Chicago Sun-Times explained “From an exhaustive Hired Truck investigation to a probe into patronage hiring at City Hall, there's so much corruption to investigate in the Chicago area, the FBI is adding manpower.” Chicago got a third public corruption squad while New York and L.A. only had two. The Hired Truck scandal was one of the biggest in recent history, where private trucking companies were paid to do nothing. Mayor Daley has yet to explain why a Chicago Mob bookmaker was running the program.

But, it’s not only Hired Truck. Mayor Daley’s Water Department was described by the Justice Department as a racketeering enterprise for at least 10 years. Just a week ago,the Chicago Democratic Machine’s own Rod Blagojevich was indicted for running a racketeering scheme even before he took office as Governor.

Blagojevich earned the early endorsement of the Machine in 2001. The Daily Herald reported powerful Alderman Burke's glowing endorsement, “I am with Rod 100% because he has what it takes to win – money, message and an army of supporters.”

Mayor Daley’s son and nephew have just hired a prominent criminal lawyer for their questionable business dealings with the city of Chicago.

Mayor Daley isn’t the only Chicago Democrat lecturing audiences about ethics. Recently, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke(wife of Alderman Ed Burke) lectured Illinois state workers on "Ethics in the Workplace" at University of Illinois-Chicago.Anne Burke has been accused by a top FBI informant of corruption.

Since 1971, 31 Chicago Aldermen have been convicted of felonies. Sometimes you just have to laugh. Or cry.

LA Tax

Residents in Los Angeles with home-based business received letters from the Office of Finance that said, “The following amounts are due and payable immediately: $4,363.81.”

People who work as independent contractors and had failed to register their businesses with the city’s tax and permit division by Feb. 28 received the letters in March.

The city calculated the number by estimating $200,000 in gross income for each business over the last three years – the annual average for city business taxes – added interest and late penalties and arrived at the $4,000-plus number.

The letters arrived at a time when many laid-off employees are working as independent contractors themselves. To add fuel to the fire, many who received the letters might have generated income less than the total amount of the tax.

Though the city has denied that the letters were any kind of “scare tactic,” the program stems from a 2002 push to identify unregistered businesses using records “disclosed to the city by the California Franchise Tax Board.” The program has added almost 100,000 businesses to the tax roll and generated $107 million in revenue.

This issue has a particular sting at the moment, particularly given LA’s 10% plus unemployment rates.

No Quit in Fargo

You could hear it in their voices – dejection, resignation and anger. Late last week, the National Weather Service announced a second crest of the Red River of the North, with predictions of a 75 percent chance the Red would crest at 41 feet and a 25 percent chance it will hit 42.8 feet in the second half of April. Not good for a community that through hard work and personal and community sacrifice averted a major disaster by continuing to sandbag, dike and fight an epic flood while not caving to a suggested mandatory evacuation of the community.

But this community/region is nothing if not resilient, tough and plain old stubborn. As people get back to work in the city (with commerce being shut down for roughly two weeks), they drive past and around semis continuing to dump clay to build and bolster dikes to hold back a projected second crest that could surge higher than the previous high-water mark. Led by an unflappable Mayor, flanked by a trauma physician Deputy Mayor, and supported by a community that cares about where they live, they seem to have put behind them the despair and with a new week comes new vigor and resolve to overcome this new threat.

This can-do approach and community drive is repeated in communities (Valley City, Olso, Drayton) up and down the valley as they confront record flooding. Starting with record fall rains, an early and deep freeze (prompting fast runoff) and heavy winter snows these communities and this region continue to see record high water levels and the threat of flooding. There have been losses – hundreds of homes reporting flood damage in Cass and Clay counties – and there may be more, but not without a fight.

World Urban Areas and Population Projections

Our colleague and frequent NewGeography contributor Wendell Cox of recently released the latest edition of his World Urban Areas and Population Projections publication.

This 5th comprehensive edition includes:

  • Ranking of the largest world urban areas (over 2,000,000 population).
  • Population, urban land area and density estimates for all 763 identified urban areas with more than 500,000 population, comprising 49 percent of the world urban population.
  • Population, urban land area and density estimates for 1,370 urban areas of all sizes, comprising 53 percent of the world urban population.
  • Population projections for the world’s largest urban areas in 2025 & 2030 (over 2,000,000 population).
  • Summary of United Nations world population projections and summary by gross domestic product, purchasing power parity (from 4th Edition)
  • Charts on urban density and prosperity (from 2nd Edition)
  • Documentation

Check it out.

GHG Emissions by Type of Geography

The suburbs, generally a haven for luxury SUVs, regimented lawn sprinkling, and keep-up-with-the-Jones purchases, are not often considered the front-runner in environmentally friendly living.

However, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s 2007 Consumption Atlas published controversial research that suggested that “dense inner-city zones unleash more greenhouse emissions than car-loving fringe suburbs.” Suddenly, car use is not the prime factor in measuring efficient living, nor can incomes tell the whole story. ()

While it has been generally accepted that high human consumption is worse for the planet than lower consumption, the study’s main controversy is the fact that the ACF gave the problem a specific geography.

The quote:

Rural and regional areas tend to have noticeably lower levels of consumption . . . Higher incomes in the inner cities are associated with higher levels of consumption across the board.

The ACF has not only pointed their finger at their main supporters (inner-city professionals) but have also invited comments from a variety of sources. The Australian study questions the data used in the past to measure where the worst violators are located.

American consultant Wendell Cox—long an advocate of suburban development—found that the data suggested that “lower GHG emissions were associated with long distance from the (urban) core, detached housing, more automobile use and lower population density.”

A team from Queensland’s Griffith University Urban Research Program drew an altogether different conclusion that put simply is, “correlation does not establish causality.”

GHG emissions are a function of overall consumption and consumption based on low-density housing “doesn’t figure prominently in the composition of aggregate consumption.”

Urban sprawl cannot be used as an argument or attempt to point fingers at the Hummer drivers. Lowering greenhouse gas emissions will require a commitment by city dwellers and suburbanites alike if we are to alter our future carbon footprint.

While the study itself has prompted much discussion and debate, if the object is to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, singling out suburbia might not be the first order of business. Spurious data and indeterminate causality make for an argument destined to fail for the lack of a supportable conclusion – unless we wish to overturn logic entirely, which some seem determined to do in furtherance of their long-held anti-suburban agenda.

Geithner's Toxic Recycling Plan Nixed by Big Fund

The success of Treasury Secretary Geithner’s Public-Private Investment Partnership Program depends on getting private investors interested in buying junk bonds off the banks’ balance sheets. Now it seems that at least one hedge fund is giving the plan “two thumbs-down.”

The New York Post is reporting that Bridgewater Associates, one of the few that might qualify for Treasury’s program, decided that “the numbers just don't add up.” Besides being a bad investment, the fund’s founder raised questions about conflicts of interest – something we find surprising. Hedge fund managers are supposed to be those free-wheeling, unregulated, we’ll-buy-anything investors – always willing to take a risk and suffer the consequences of the market outcomes.

Bridgewater’s concern is that Geithner’s junk bond plan includes hiring asset managers – who will also be investors. There are clear conflicts of interest because these managers will "have both the government and the investors to please and because they will get their fees regardless of how these investments turn out," wrote Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio. Imagine, a hedge fund worried about collusion among asset managers? Maybe it takes one to know one?

The real question is why Geithner would set up a program putting US taxpayer money in the hands of unregulated hedge funds and then go to Europe a few days later and blame the global financial crisis (at least in part) on hedge funds and their lack of regulation? Dalio is right: it just doesn’t add up.