Middle Class

Progressives Against Progress

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For the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, American liberals distinguished themselves from conservatives by what Lionel Trilling called “a spiritual orthodoxy of belief in progress.” Liberalism placed its hopes in human perfectibility. Regarding human nature as essentially both beneficent and malleable, liberals, like their socialist cousins, argued that with the aid of science and given the proper social and economic conditions, humanity could free itself from its cramped carapace of greed and distrust and enter a realm of true freedom and happiness.  read more »

The China Syndrome

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China's ascension to the world's second-largest economy, surpassing Japan, has led to predictions that it will inevitably snatch the No. 1 spot from the United States. Nomura Securities envisions China surpassing the U.S.' total GDP in little more than a decade. And economist Robert Fogel predicts that by 2050 China's economy will account for 40% of the world's GDP, with the U.S.' share shrinking to a measly 14%.

Americans indeed should worry about the prospect of slipping status, but the idée fixe about China's inevitable hegemony--like Japan's two decades ago--could prove greatly exaggerated. Countries generally do not experience hyper-growth--the starting point for many predictions--for long. Eventually costs rise, internal pressures grow and natural limitations brake and can even throw the economy into reverse.  read more »

The Disappearance of the Next Middle Class

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Every week we read that yet another major housing project has been turned down by the Courts here in New Zealand because of the need to protect "rural character" or "natural landscapes". This may well have profound short and long-term consequences for the future of our middle class, as it does for the same class in countries around the advanced world.

Every week a multitude of smaller developers abandon their projects because Councils’ compliance costs and development contributions make the projects unviable – even if the land were free. And it’s not.  read more »

China's Sliver of a Housing Bubble

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Few finance issues have received such a wide range of opinions among financial experts than the "housing bubble" in China. This is an issue of international importance because what happens in what is now the world’s 2nd largest economy affects the rest of the world.  read more »

Can We Socialize Ourselves to Good Health?

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How can we reduce health problems in society? Should we tackle poverty and social problems such as crime and drug abuse, or is the problem inequality in itself? If we reduce the income in a middle class neighborhood, will this in itself improve the health of poor people living in the same city?

The latter form of reasoning is perhaps not so popular in the US, but quite so amongst European social democrats. A new book highlights how the European left is as concerned with fighting wealth as it is with fighting poverty.  read more »

Vancouver: Planner’s Dream, Middle Class Nightmare

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Vancouver is consistently rated among the most desirable places to live in the Economist’s annual ranking of cities. In fact, this year it topped the list. Of course, it also topped another list. Vancouver was ranked as the city with the most unaffordable housing in the English speaking world by Demographia’s annual survey. According to the survey criteria, housing prices in an affordable market should have an “median multiple” of no higher than 3.0 (meaning that median housing price should cost no more than 3 times the median annual gross household income). Vancouver came in at a staggering 9.3. The second most expensive major Canadian city, Toronto, has an index of only 5.2. Even legendarily unaffordable London and New York were significantly lower, coming in at 7.1 and 7.0 respectively. While there are many factors that make Vancouver a naturally expensive market, there are a number of land use regulations that contribute to the high housing costs.  read more »

Sarah Palin: The GOP's Poison Pearl

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Sarah Palin has emerged as the right's sweetheart, a cross between a pin-up girl and Joan of Arc. For some activists, like the American Thinker's Lloyd Marcus, she's "my awesome conservative sister" who the mainstream media wants to "destroy at any cost."

On a more serious note, leading right-wing pundit Roger Simon argues Palin's is now the biggest name in Republicandom, which he admits is not too great an accomplishment. Armed with "something more than intellect," he praises her unique ability to "connect with the base." He also believes, citing some polls for 2012, that she could run a close race against President Obama.  read more »

Mass Transit: The Great Train Robbery

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Last month promoters of the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Los Angeles rail projects, both past and future, held a party to celebrate their "success." Although this may well have been justified for transit-builders and urban land speculators, there may be far less call for celebration among L.A.'s beleaguered commuters.

Despite promises that the $8 billion invested in rail lines over the past two decades would lessen L.A.'s traffic congestion and reshape how Angelenos get to work, the sad reality is that there has been no increase in MTA transit ridership since before the rail expansion began in 1985.  read more »

Melbourne: Government Seeking Housing Affordability

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Once a country known as “lucky” for its affordable quality of life, Australia has achieved legendary status as a place where public policies have destroyed housing affordability for the middle class. Draconian land rationing policies (called "urban consolidation" in Australia and more generally "compact city" policy or "smart growth"), have made it virtually illegal to build houses outside tightly drawn urban growth boundaries that leave virtually no room for new construction beyond the urban fringe.  read more »

Ownership Subsidies: Dream Homes or Disasters?

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Home ownership has been considered an integral part of the American Dream for as long as anyone can remember. Now it has come under scrutiny, notably in a June Wall Street Journal piece by Richard Florida, which claims that that home ownership reduces employment opportunities for young adults, since it limits their mobility.  read more »