Financial Crisis

In a Financial Crisis What Happens to the Dog Bakeries?

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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

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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 »

Corporate Sponsorship of the Golden Gate, the Ultimate Sign of Failed Infrastructure

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The most anticipated tourist attraction in the city where I live, The Golden Gate Bridge, is a testament to the lasting utility of a well executed infrastructure project. The world’s most famous suspension bridge still serves as the critical artery connecting San Francisco to the bedroom communities of Marin County to the north, where much of the city’s workforce resides. Remarkably, this marvel of engineering was completed in the late 1930s – a time when the U.S. was coming out of the Great Depression.

The New Deal brought about an expansion of infrastructure that should inspire us. Yet nearly 70 years after its completion, the sobering reality remains: it’s difficult to imagine a project of that moxie being constructed today.  read more »

Tough Budget Math for City Politicians: Bad Economy + Human Nature = More Cops

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Our economy is going to get better some day, step by step. But it’s bad right now, with a full recovery likely a matter of years rather than months away. Public officials should plan accordingly, keeping in mind how the vicious cycle of a bad economy turns typical decision making on its head.  read more »

Daschle And State-by-State Healthcare Mistakes

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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 »

Moving to Flyover Country

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As the international financial crisis and the US economy have worsened, there have been various reports about more people “staying put,” not moving from one part of the country to another. There is some truth in this, but the latest US Bureau of the Census estimates indicate the people are still moving, and in big numbers.  read more »

Stop The Wall Street Bonuses

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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 »

How Detroit Lost the Millennials, and Maybe the Rest of Us, Too

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The current debate over whether to save our domestic auto industry has revealed some starkly different views about the future of manufacturing in America among economists, elected officials, and corporate executives. There are many disagreements about solutions to the Big Three’s current financial difficulties, but the more fundamental debate lies in whether the industry should be bent to the will of the government’s environmental priorities or if it should serve only the needs of the companies’ customers and their shareholders.

But there’s something more at stake: the long-term credibility of Detroit among the rising generation of Millennials. These young people, after all, are the future consumers for the auto industry and winning them – or at least a significant portion of them – over is critical to the industry’s long-term prospects in the marketplace and in the halls of Congress.  read more »

Current Policy Overlooks the New Homeless

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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 »

Stimulate Manufacturing and Production, Not Consumption and Consumerism

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As store earnings plunged last week, the National Retail Federation proposed that the country create the mother of all sales by suspending taxes on all purchases. These tax holidays would occur in March, July and October and be national in scope.

The bill, they suggested, should be picked up by – who else? – the federal taxpayer, who would make up for the lost local revenues even for the five states without sales taxes. The rationale, suggests the Federation's chairman, J.C. Penney Chief Executive Myron Ullman III, in a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, would be "to help stimulate consumer spending as one of the first priorities of your new administration."  read more »