Financial Crisis

Former Insider on the Auto Bailout: Never Underestimate Brainpower in Detroit

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In all the many (how many) years I worked as an engineer in and around the auto industry, I got to compare conditions in Europe, Japan and America. Yet in many ways the American situation was perhaps the most tragic – the most potential, most eagerly squandered. It’s not Americans who are flawed, but the business model imposed from the top.

For example, I do not believe American engineers are inferior to those working elsewhere. It’s just the way their inputs are handled. Toyota and Honda have long-term viable plans that forecast many years down the road. This gives engineers a clear direction.  read more »

Is the U.S. Capitalist, Socialist or Something In-between?

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During the Presidential campaign, then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama inartfully described his proposed federal income tax cuts for the middle class as “sharing the wealth.” His more strident right-wing opponents – including Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin – almost immediately labeled Obama “a socialist,” adding to a litany of alleged infirmities as a presidential candidate that included lacking executive experience; being a closet Muslim; and “someone who pals around with terrorists.”  read more »

Auto Bailout: Help Mississippi, Not Michigan

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We should be getting used to the depressing spectacle of once-great corporations begging for assistance from Washington. Yet perhaps nothing is more painful than to see General Motors and other big U.S.-based car companies – once exemplars of both American economic supremacy and middle-class aspirations – fall to such an appalling state.

Yet if GM represents all that is bad about the American economy, particularly manufacturing, it does not represent the breadth of our industrial landscape. Indeed, even as the dull-witted leviathan sinks, many nimble companies have shown remarkable resiliency.  read more »

Can Millennials Turn around the Housing Bust?

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Many of the nation’s youth (and a few of their elders) are expecting a magical turnaround of America’s economic fortunes as soon as their candidate for President, Barack Obama, is sworn in on January 20th 2009. But the Millennial Generation, born between 1982 and 2003, may be more the source of the country’s economic salvation as any initiative the new President might propose.

Millennials are the largest generation in American history, more than 91 million strong. They are coming of age just in time to join the workforce, enter the housing market, stabilize home prices, and buy the nation's expanding inventory of durable goods to furnish their new homes.  read more »

The Housing Bubble and the Boomer Generation

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Much of the commentary on the current economic crisis has focused on symptoms. Sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps and the loosening of financial regulations are not the root cause of the financial crisis. They are symptoms of what has recently become a surprisingly widespread belief that individuals, families and even entire nations could live indefinitely beyond their means.

The crisis has reminded everyone that, in the end, market fundamentals like supply and demand still matter and that ignoring traditional virtues like thrift and long-term planning can lead to grief. But what does this have to do with boomers?  read more »

Architecture in an Age of Austerity

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“Architectural publication, criticism and even education are now focused relentlessly on the enticing visual image. The longing for singular, memorable imagery subordinates other aspects of buildings, isolating architecture in disembodied vision.” – Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa, from his essay “Toward an Architecture of Humility”

Anyone paying even remote attention to the domain of high architectural design in the past decade will surely recognize the name Frank Gehry. The celebrity architect (or if you prefer to use the portmanteau word used to describe such practitioners: starchitect) is best known for his unconventional creations-buildings that billow, swoop and shimmer.  read more »

Bailout or Just in Time Delivery?

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Toyota is careful in its ways; it didn’t get where it is today by idly locating manufacturing plants. And, so it chose Georgetown, Ky. – 12 miles north of Lexington on I-75 – for the location of its first and largest U.S. plant. It was followed in the ensuing years by numerous other foreign auto plants locating in the South – BMW, Mercedes, Saturn, Hyundai and yet another Toyota (in Mississippi).

Why, you may ask, did they come to the South?  read more »

Glimpsing Reasons to Give Thanks in the City of Angels

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This is one tough Thanksgiving coming up for a lot of folks in Los Angeles, where so many have been left vulnerable by the economic downturn.

This place of ours, this city, looked good for the ride just a few months ago.

Now it looks different.

There are different faces on our streets. Some are new, out of place, in a daze over where they have landed.  read more »

Blame Wall Street's Phantom Bonds for the Credit Crisis

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The “credit crisis” is largely a Wall Street disaster of its own making. From the sale of stocks and bonds that are never delivered, to the purchase of default insurance worth more than the buyer’s assets, we no longer have investment strategies, but rather investment schemes. As long as everyone was making money, no one complained. But like any Ponzi Scheme, eventually the pyramid begins to collapse.

For the last couple of months trillions of dollars worth of US Treasury bonds have been sold but undelivered. Trades that go unsettled have become an event so common that the industry has an acronym for it: FTD, or fail to deliver.  read more »

California’s Inland Empire: Is There Hope in the Heart of Darkness?

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Few areas in America have experienced a more dramatic change in fortunes as extreme as Southern California’s Inland Empire. From 1990-2008, the Inland Empire (Riverside & San Bernardino counties) has been California’s strongest job generator creating 20.1% of its employment growth. The area also consistently ranked among the nation’s fastest growing large metropolitan areas. However in 2008, the mortgage debacle has sent this area, which had not seen year-over-year job losses in over four decades, into a steep downturn.  read more »