Policy

Has America Caught the British Disease?

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As the economy stalls, analysts are worrying that the United States might repeat the experience of Japan’s “lost decade” (actually, two lost decades). Is America turning Japanese? We should be more worried about the prospect that America is turning British.

The United Kingdom went from creating the first industrial economy and establishing a global empire to lagging Italy by the 1970s. The neoliberal reforms of Thatcher and Blair, intended to modernize the economy, merely replaced a rotting manufacturing economy with an unstable rentier economy centered in the City of London. With a zombie economy characterized by industrial wastelands, off-limits aristocratic landholdings, tourist kitsch and a financial sector that choked on its own excesses, Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” looks more like “Ghoul Britannia.”  read more »

The Housing Bubble: The Economists Should Have Known

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Paul Krugman got it right. But it should not have taken a Nobel Laureate to note that the emperor's nakedness with respect to the connection between the housing bubble and more restrictive land use regulation.  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 »

City Thinking is Stuck in the 90s

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The 1990s proved to be quite a nice decade indeed for most of America's largest cities. It was an era of general prosperity in all of America to be sure, but in contrast to previous decades, the turnaround also extended from the suburbs to many of the nation's biggest cities, notably New York, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and San Jose. The notion – popular in the 70s and 80s – associating cities with a sour and fatalistic sense of decline and dysfunction, or even anarchy, in the 90s finally began to evaporate.  read more »

In California Cool is the Rule, but Sometimes, Bad is Bad

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Californians value cool. I’m not sure how this came to be. It might be the weather. It might be the entertainment industry. Whatever the reason, Californians don’t get excited. Better to go with flow than to get excited. Things will be ok. Concerned about the economy? Stay cool Dude. It’ll come back. Always has. Always will. Relax.

It’s not cool to get excited, or heaven forbid, panic. Californians are not quick to react to problems, so confident that eventually the problem will just go away.  read more »

Millennials Are Looking for Something Completely Different

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As the country’s political distemper grows, many commentators, reflecting their own generational biases, mistakenly assume that voters are looking for less government as the solution to the nation’s ills. But survey research data from Washington think tank, NDN, shows that a majority of Americans (54%), and particularly the country’s youngest generation, Millennials, born 1982-2003, (58%), actually favor a more active government, rather than one that “stays out of society and the economy.”  read more »

A Localist Solution

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By Richard Reep

“There is a great deal of historical evidence to suggest that a society which loses its identity with posterity and which loses its positive image of the future loses also its capacity to deal with present problems, and soon falls apart.”
--Kenneth Boulding, economist and philosopher (1966)

Written in the depths of the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation appeared imminent, if not inevitable to some, Boulding’s words remain applicable to today’s popular culture. Increasingly unable to imagine a positive future since the 1990s, we have largely replaced the end of the nuclear threat with the beginning of global warming, among other environmental threats. Others have raised the spectre of Chinese global domination or a prolonged and destructive jihad from the Islamic world.  read more »

Flexible Forecasting: Looking for the Next Economic Model

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Last autumn I gave a talk in California's San Fernando Valley. I was the last of three economists speaking that day, and I watched the other economists’ presentations, each a rosy forecast of recovery and imminent prosperity. So, I was a bit nervous when it was my turn to speak, because I had a forecast of extended malaise. People don’t like to hear bad news, and they do blame the messenger. In the end, I was relieved. No tomatoes, no catcalls.

That’s how things went last fall and winter. Many economists confidently predicted a rapid recovery, while my group’s forecasts were pretty dismal: weak economic growth with little if any job creation. Today, many of those same economists’ forecasts are far closer to ours. Why?  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 »