Economics

Who Killed California's Economy?

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Right now California's economy is moribund, and the prospects for a quick turnaround are not good. Unable to pay its bills, the state is issuing IOUs; its once strong credit rating has collapsed. The state that once boasted the seventh-largest gross domestic product in the world is looking less like a celebrated global innovator and more like a fiscal basket case along the lines of Argentina or Latvia.

It took some amazing incompetence to toss this best-endowed of places down into the dustbin of history. Yet conventional wisdom views the crisis largely as a legacy of Proposition 13, which in effect capped only taxes.

This lets too many malefactors off the hook. I covered the Proposition 13 campaign for the Washington Post and examined its aftermath up close. It passed because California was running huge surpluses at the time, even as soaring property taxes were driving people from their homes.  read more »

View from the UK: The Progressive’s Dilemma

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American progressives long have looked upon Britain’s Labour Party as an exemplar of how to prioritize social welfare without entirely alienating business. Unlike their European counterparts, whose overly suspicious view of wealth and overly generous view of social welfare spending make poor role models for America, the British Labour Party has brokered a “partnership” between wealth and welfare over the years more suitable to the American psyche.  read more »

Shrinking the Rust Belt

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An article in the London Daily Telegraph suggesting that President Obama might back a major program of bulldozing parts of cities in the Rust Belt has put so-called “shrinking cities” back in the spotlight. Many cities around the country, especially in the Rust Belt have experienced major population loss in their urban cores which has sometimes spilled into their entire metro area. They have thousands of abandoned homes, decayed infrastructure, environmental challenges, and no growth to justify a belief that many districts will ever be repopulated.  read more »

Letter From Asia's Co-Prosperity Sphere

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To visit banks in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, I recently flew into Shanghai and out from Singapore. In two weeks, I rode a lot of trains and met a lot of bankers. When I got home to Europe, it felt like I had traversed a Greater Economic Co-Prosperity Sphere, although I was never sure if it was one that belonged to China, Japan, or the international banking system. Here's a highly personal, thumbnail report on the region's development and some of the local rail network:  read more »

Why The Left Is Questioning Its Hero

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Much has been made by the national media and the markets about the emergence from our desiccated economic soil of what President Obama has called "green shoots." But although the economy may already be slowly regenerating (largely due to its natural resiliency), we need to question whether these fledglings will grow into healthy plants or a crop of crabgrass.

The political right has made many negative assessments of the president's approach, decrying the administration's huge jump in deficit spending and penchant for ever more expansive regulatory control of the economy. Polling data by both The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal shows some growing unease about both the expanding federal role in the economy and the growing mountain of debt.  read more »

GM, Business, and The Age of Small

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At its peak, General Motors employed 350,000 people and operated 150 assembly plants. It defined “big business” for America and the world.

But GM was not always big. It grew through the acquisitions that it made in the early decades of the twentieth century. In those days, the automotive industry was populated by entrepreneurial small businesses led by people like Ransom Olds and Henry Ford. There were more than 200 automobile companies in the United States in 1920. By 1940, only 17 had survived.  read more »

The Geography of Class in Greater Seattle

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Most readers may not be initially very interested in the detailed geography of “class” in Seattle, but it actually matters not only for our area but for the whole debate over the shape of the urban future. Academics, perhaps Americans in general, are loath to admit to class differences, yet they remain very crucial to the understanding of how cities and regions evolve.

Seattle is a great example of the transformation of a 20th century model of the American metropolis to a 21st century-cum-19th century “old World” model of metropolis. It is often held up as one of the role models for other cities, so its experiences should be considered seriously not only for American cities but for regions throughout the advanced world.  read more »

Europe: No Longer A Role Model For America

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For decades many in the American political and policy establishment--including close supporters of President Obama--have looked enviously at the bureaucratic powerhouse of the European Union. In everything from climate change to civil liberties to land use regulation, Europe long has charmed those visionaries, particularly on the left, who wish to remake America in its image.  read more »

Kauai, Hawaii: Local Merchants Make Waves

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Many have by now heard or read the story of the plucky group of Hawaiians on the island of Kauai who, when faced with the loss of their businesses due to the state government’s inability to open park roads to a popular beach and camping area, took care of it themselves for a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time. How very Tocquevellian. Or, better, how very American.  read more »

Farmland Prices: The Cost of Growing A Suburb

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Summer in Minnesota – land of 10,000 lakes — is, for many families, about boating, with the Harley the preferred mode of ground transportation. In winter, snow mobiles are popular. Hunting and fishing replace the corner coffee shops as hangouts. Three car garages are considered a minimum – four even better!

So how did it come to pass that out-of-control land prices would destroy the economics of housing in this small-town region? And why was the pattern repeated in markets like Las Vegas and Phoenix?  read more »