Middle Class

London Calling: Bad News For Home Buyers

London-new terraced houses-iStock_000003430134XSmall.jpg

The demand for housing in London has outstripped supply since the post-war period, making housing unaffordable to a majority of the city’s low and middle-income families. And although the house price growth of the last two decades has reversed itself recently, it is far from clear that London’s housing problems are in any way diminished. The opportunities for first-time buyers to get into the game may be worse than at any time in recent decades.  read more »

Burnin’ Down the House! Part Two: Wall Street has a Weenie Roast With Your 401k

iStock_000004174476XSmall.jpg

Last week I wrote about the first part of my talk to the Bellevue Kiwanis Club on why our economy is in the position it is today. It is a story about good intentioned policies – like modifying credit scoring for Americans working in a cash-economy – that were bastardized in the execution – like some Americans using modified credit scoring to lie about their income. Just like there were superstar firms among the original “junk bond” companies, there were also firms like Enron and WorldCom.

In the first part of my story: banks wrote mortgages, their broker-arms sold them to the public in the form of bonds, they paid fees to Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s to get triple-A credit ratings, and they devised crazy default protection schemes which they also sold in the public capital markets. On top of all that, they screwed up the paper work so there was no relationship between houses and the ultimate financial paper that could be used to cover potential losses.  read more »

While Fixing Housing, Fix the Regulations

iStock_000004846641XSmall.jpg

Everyone knows that subprime mortgages lie at the root of our current financial crisis. Lenders originated too many of them, they were securitized amidst an increasingly complex credit market, and the bubble popped. The rest is painful history.  read more »

Anger Could Make Us Stronger

iStock_000004595370XSmall.jpg

The notion of a populist outburst raises an archaic vision of soot-covered industrial workers waving placards. Yet populism is far from dead, and represents a force that could shape our political future in unpredictable ways.

People have reasons to be mad, from declining real incomes to mythic levels of greed and excess among the financial elite. Confidence in political and economic institutions remains at low levels, as does belief in the future.  read more »

Restoring the Real New Orleans

iStock_000002739254XSmall.jpg

Like so many others, I have long been a visitor to New Orleans. In my case, the first visit was 1979, when we studied the city to influence the design of the new town of Seaside. I have been back often – for New Orleans is one of the best places to learn architecture and urbanism in the United States. My emphasis on design might seem unusual, but it shouldn't be, for the design of New Orleans possesses a unique quality and character comparable to the music and the cuisine that receives most of the attention.

During those visits, sadly, I did not get to know the people – not really. The New Orleanians I met were doing their jobs but not necessarily being themselves. Such is the experience of the tourist.  read more »

How Elite Environmentalists Impoverish Blue-Collar Americans

iStock_000007330765XSmall.jpg

The great Central Valley of California has never been an easy place. Dry and almost uninhabitable by nature, the state's engineering marvels brought water down from the north and the high Sierra, turning semi-desert into some of the richest farmland in the world.  read more »

Different Shades of Green

iStock_000003602355XSmall.jpg

Last month marked the 15th anniversary of the settlement of Plotkin vs. General Electric, the landmark “greenwashing” lawsuit I filed in 1993. At the time, GE was misleading consumers by selling phony lookalike energy efficient light bulbs that were in fact just old fashioned incandescent wolves in green packaging.

I took no money from the case. But I required G.E. to make labeling changes and to pony up $3.25 million dollars in consumer refunds and donations to environmental and public service groups. The labeling changes made it easier for the manufacturers of real energy efficient light bulbs, which were just then entering the marketplace, to distinguish their products on the shelves.  read more »

How the Financial Crisis Threatens Localism

Publix_Entry_Sun_Aft.png

By Richard Reep

As in many places, the poor economy is forcing many families in affluent Winter Park, Florida to make some necessary adjustments. One of the most basic adjustments relates to shopping for food and staples. In better times, Winter Park was ruled by two Publix supermarkets and a Whole Foods. Grocery-cart conversation among friends became a common event; now this smooth, middle-class lifestyle pattern has been disrupted.  read more »

How Houston Will Weather The Recession

iStock_000008722290XSmall.jpg

In the past year or so, traveling the various geographies of this country has become increasingly depressing. From the baked Sun Belt suburbs to the green Valhallas of Oregon and the once luxurious precincts of Manhattan, it is hard to find much cheer--at least from entrepreneurs--about the prospects for the economy.

Until recently Texas, and particularly Houston, has been one of the last bastions of that great traditional American optimism--and for good reason. Over the past few years, Houston has outperformed every major metropolitan area on virtually every key economic indicator.  read more »

Sunbelt Indianapolis

iStock_000004400964XSmall.jpg

For decades, the overwhelming majority of population and economic growth has occurred in the Sun Belt – the nation’s South and West as defined by the United States Bureau of the Census. This broadly-defined area stretches south from the Washington-Baltimore area to the entire West, including anything but sunny Seattle and Portland. Any list of population growth or employment growth among the major metropolitan areas will tend to show the Sun Belt metropolitan areas bunched at the top and the Frost Belt areas (the Northeast and Midwest regions) bunched at the bottom.  read more »