Economics

Has America Caught the British Disease?

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As the economy stalls, analysts are worrying that the United States might repeat the experience of Japan’s “lost decade” (actually, two lost decades). Is America turning Japanese? We should be more worried about the prospect that America is turning British.

The United Kingdom went from creating the first industrial economy and establishing a global empire to lagging Italy by the 1970s. The neoliberal reforms of Thatcher and Blair, intended to modernize the economy, merely replaced a rotting manufacturing economy with an unstable rentier economy centered in the City of London. With a zombie economy characterized by industrial wastelands, off-limits aristocratic landholdings, tourist kitsch and a financial sector that choked on its own excesses, Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” looks more like “Ghoul Britannia.”  read more »

The Housing Bubble: The Economists Should Have Known

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Paul Krugman got it right. But it should not have taken a Nobel Laureate to note that the emperor's nakedness with respect to the connection between the housing bubble and more restrictive land use regulation.  read more »

The China Syndrome

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China's ascension to the world's second-largest economy, surpassing Japan, has led to predictions that it will inevitably snatch the No. 1 spot from the United States. Nomura Securities envisions China surpassing the U.S.' total GDP in little more than a decade. And economist Robert Fogel predicts that by 2050 China's economy will account for 40% of the world's GDP, with the U.S.' share shrinking to a measly 14%.

Americans indeed should worry about the prospect of slipping status, but the idée fixe about China's inevitable hegemony--like Japan's two decades ago--could prove greatly exaggerated. Countries generally do not experience hyper-growth--the starting point for many predictions--for long. Eventually costs rise, internal pressures grow and natural limitations brake and can even throw the economy into reverse.  read more »

The Disappearance of the Next Middle Class

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Every week we read that yet another major housing project has been turned down by the Courts here in New Zealand because of the need to protect "rural character" or "natural landscapes". This may well have profound short and long-term consequences for the future of our middle class, as it does for the same class in countries around the advanced world.

Every week a multitude of smaller developers abandon their projects because Councils’ compliance costs and development contributions make the projects unviable – even if the land were free. And it’s not.  read more »

City Thinking is Stuck in the 90s

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The 1990s proved to be quite a nice decade indeed for most of America's largest cities. It was an era of general prosperity in all of America to be sure, but in contrast to previous decades, the turnaround also extended from the suburbs to many of the nation's biggest cities, notably New York, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and San Jose. The notion – popular in the 70s and 80s – associating cities with a sour and fatalistic sense of decline and dysfunction, or even anarchy, in the 90s finally began to evaporate.  read more »

Urban Legends: Why Suburbs, Not Dense Cities, are the Future

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The human world is fast becoming an urban world -- and according to many, the faster that happens and the bigger the cities get, the better off we all will be. The old suburban model, with families enjoying their own space in detached houses, is increasingly behind us; we're heading toward heavier reliance on public transit, greater density, and far less personal space.  read more »

In California Cool is the Rule, but Sometimes, Bad is Bad

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Californians value cool. I’m not sure how this came to be. It might be the weather. It might be the entertainment industry. Whatever the reason, Californians don’t get excited. Better to go with flow than to get excited. Things will be ok. Concerned about the economy? Stay cool Dude. It’ll come back. Always has. Always will. Relax.

It’s not cool to get excited, or heaven forbid, panic. Californians are not quick to react to problems, so confident that eventually the problem will just go away.  read more »

The Golden State’s War on Itself

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California has long been a destination for those seeking a better place to live. For most of its history, the state enacted sensible policies that created one of the wealthiest and most innovative economies in human history. California realized the American dream but better, fostering a huge middle class that, for the most part, owned their homes, sent their kids to public schools, and found meaningful work connected to the state’s amazingly diverse, innovative economy.  read more »

Flexible Forecasting: Looking for the Next Economic Model

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Last autumn I gave a talk in California's San Fernando Valley. I was the last of three economists speaking that day, and I watched the other economists’ presentations, each a rosy forecast of recovery and imminent prosperity. So, I was a bit nervous when it was my turn to speak, because I had a forecast of extended malaise. People don’t like to hear bad news, and they do blame the messenger. In the end, I was relieved. No tomatoes, no catcalls.

That’s how things went last fall and winter. Many economists confidently predicted a rapid recovery, while my group’s forecasts were pretty dismal: weak economic growth with little if any job creation. Today, many of those same economists’ forecasts are far closer to ours. Why?  read more »

Alaska: Caribou Commons Or America's Lost Ace?

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The most serious collateral damage from the BP spill disaster could very likely be in the far north, along the Alaskan coast. The problem is not a current spill but the Obama administration's ban on offshore drilling and what many fear may be a broader attempt to close the state from further resource-related development.

Such an approach could harm both the local and national economies for decades to come.  read more »