Financial Crisis

Financial Crisis: Who will Bailout the State and Local Governments?

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The continual Illinois corruption scandals have created not only ignominy to the Land of Lincoln, but have now placed a negative ranking from Standard and Poor on its credit. If Illinois vies with other states for the title of most corrupt, it has plenty of company when it comes to financial disaster.

Although building for years, the impending collapse of state and municipal finance has been hastened by the growing financial crisis.  read more »

Make Sure All That Infrastructure Spending Is Well Supported

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It's the new buzzword: infrastructure.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised billions in infrastructure spending as part of a public works program bigger than any since the interstate highway system was built in the 1950s. Though it was greeted with hosannas, his proposal is only tapping into a clamor for such spending that's been rising ever since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and a major bridge collapsed in Minneapolis last year. With the economy now officially in recession, the rage for new brick and mortar is reaching a fever pitch.

But before we commit hundreds of billions to new construction projects, we should focus on just what kind of infrastructure investment we should – and shouldn't – be making.  read more »

Rethinking Risk During a Financial Crisis: Learning from Mexico

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Last month I visited a small town in southern Mexico. It is a quiet and modestly prosperous place. Outside some of the homes are older Suburbans, Jeeps and Explorers; the license plates show that their owners have recently returned from the US, driven out by the collapsing economy and heightened nativist anxieties. Almost every family, it seems, has some member who has spent time up north; only a very few of them are still hanging on through the recession.  read more »

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 »