Solving the Financial Crisis: Looking Beyond Simple Solutions


When presented with complex ideas about complicated events, the human tendency is to think in terms of Jungian archetypes: good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. The more complicated the events, the more the human mind seeks to limit the number of variables it considers in unison in order to make sense of what it sees. The result is a tendency to describe events in the simplest black and white terms, ignoring the spectrum of colors in between.

This principle can be seen in the current explanation of the financial crisis.  read more »

The Leveling of Citigroup

iStock_000007055886XSmall-Citicorp Bldg.jpg

The idea that Citigroup could support the family by gambling didn’t begin with Robert Rubin. It’s part of a long tradition. What was different in the most recent go-round is that, this time, Citi didn’t invent the game. Of course, once it got to the casino it characteristically placed larger bets than anyone else.

Word that Citigroup is teetering on the brink of break up brings a certain wistfulness to this former Citibank speechwriter. Not because intensive care is something new for the old bank — it isn’t — but because it ended up on life support by following the crowd instead of leading it.  read more »

In a Financial Crisis What Happens to the Dog Bakeries?


What will happen to the dog bakeries? I ask this question, because this line of business (and perhaps many others) escaped my attention for so long. I saw my first one years ago in suburban St. Louis. As one interested in economics, poverty and history, it struck me that dog bakeries represented a perfect symbol for the many “discretionary” business lines that have been established in recent decades in what has been called the consumer economy.

This discretionary economy consists of businesses for which do not exist in societies with little discretionary income. It includes in its ranks a host of businesses that did not even exist before the last couple of decades, from dog bakeries, to Starbucks, tony cafes, specialized clothing stores and personal fitness centers. While these businesses might have been attractive to the households of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, people just didn’t have enough discretionary income to support them.  read more »

A Bailout For Yuppies


The recent call by the porn industry – a big employer where I live, in the San Fernando Valley – for a $5 billion bailout elicited outrage in other places. Around here, it sparked something more akin to nervous laughter. Yet lending a helping hand to Pornopolis is far from the most absurd approach being discussed to stimulate the economy.

Some influentials close to the administration may even find the porn industry a bit too tangible for their tastes. After all, the pornsters make a product that sells internationally, appeals to the masses and employs a lot of people whose skills are, well, more practical than ideational.  read more »

Advancing Economies by the Power of Industry


For the last quarter century there has been a growing tendency among policy makers and corporate executives to downplay, and even ignore, the primary importance of the ‘real,’ or tangible, economy. It is now widely believed that the primary engine of wealth creation is the manipulation of symbols and images — ‘the new economy’ of the ‘information/creative age’ — as opposed to the manufacture of tangible products and services.  read more »

The Mobility Paradox: Investing in Human Capital Fuels Migration


China has an interesting urban development strategy. The government bypasses those areas that it considers backward and plagued by poverty and entrenched political corruption. Instead, the investment goes into those areas it presumes to be new boomtowns.

Now imagine if that Darwinian approach was used here in the United States. A report (“City Beautiful”) authored by two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia advocates pushing federal infrastructure dollars – which could soon be flowing in the hundreds of billions – not towards our tired, hard-pressed urban areas but those that have experienced the greatest extent of gentrification.  read more »

Daschle And State-by-State Healthcare Mistakes


Tom Daschle appears before the Senate this week for confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services. While Daschle knows his stuff on health care (see his book, Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis), the discussion is likely to be sidetracked by those who champion a reliance on insurance companies, or on piecemeal reform starting with children. Or, as I’ll discuss here, on a wrong-headed impulse to depend on the states to create new health care models.  read more »

Stop The Wall Street Bonuses


These are tough times for Michael Bloomberg's free-spending "luxury city." High-end condominium speculators – long considered impervious to the mortgage crisis – are shivering in the bitter cold this winter. Four billion dollars in building projects have been postponed or canceled outright, in large part because Wall Street's bonus babies are getting a tad less than they are accustomed to.

Despite this, I would suspect most of America thinks Wall Street, and New York's financial community, has not suffered enough. Industry bonuses are still expected to total well over $20 billion – small compared to last year's stupendous $33.2 billion, but not an insignificant New Year's present for the very people who have played a crucial role in wrecking the world economy.  read more »

Current Policy Overlooks the New Homeless


San Francisco: A Chevron employee is forced to move his family of four into their Mitsubishi Gallant after being laid off…

Atlanta: Jeniece Richards moved from Michigan to Atlanta a year ago, but despite her best efforts, and two college degrees, remains homeless. She is living in temporary housing with her two children and younger brother…

Denver: As Carrie Hinkle’s hours dwindled, she was forced to choose between paying rent or buying food for her daughter. The two are now working with local agencies towards permanent housing, again…

These stories, plucked from the headlines of the past months are more than the typical holiday coverage. They show faces of the newly homeless, growing as the economy crumbles and opportunities fade.  read more »

Class and the Future of Planning


Economic segregation may be a foregone conclusion, as studies have long suggested. For one thing, our first tendency is to buy the best place we can afford, intentionally locating to those parts of a region that appeal to others with similar buying power. Secondly, we tend to buy something most suitable to our tastes, which steers us into areas populated by those with similar viewpoints.

The implications for contemporary planning processes are profound, especially since current best practices revolve so much around form and style and take so little measure of economics, choice, and consequence.  read more »