Police Pensions and Voodoo Actuarials

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A key argument that public-safety officials use to justify their absurdly high pension benefits –- i.e., “3 percent at 50” retirements that allow them to retire with 90 percent or more of their final year’s pay as early as age 50 -- is this: We die soon after retirement because of all the stresses and difficulties of our jobs. This is such a common urban legend that virtually every officer who contacts me mentions this “fact.” They never provide back-up evidence.  read more »

Congress and the Administration Take Aim at Local Democracy


Local democracy has been a mainstay of the US political system. This is evident from the town hall governments in New England to the small towns that the majority of Americans choose to live in today.

In most states and metropolitan areas, substantial policy issues – such as zoning and land use decisions – are largely under the control of those who have a principal interest: local voters who actually live in the nation’s cities, towns, villages, townships and unincorporated county areas. This may be about to change.  read more »

Detroit: Urban Laboratory and the New American Frontier


The troubles of Detroit are well-publicized. Its economy is in free fall, people are streaming for the exits, it has the worst racial polarization and city-suburb divide in America, its government is feckless and corrupt (though I should hasten to add that new Mayor Bing seems like a basically good guy and we ought to give him a chance), and its civic boosters, even ones that are extremely knowledgeable, refuse to acknowledge the depth of the problems, instead ginning up stats and anecdotes to prove all is not so bad.  read more »

Getting Real About “Green” Jobs


Over the past year, Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. (EMSI) has been fielding questions from local planners (workforce boards, community colleges, and economic developers) on how to look at green jobs, particularly at the regional level. Perhaps nothing has been more hyped, or misunderstood, than the potential impact of this sector on local economies.

In order to wade through the rhetoric and often overblown expectations, we’ve been doing our best to link labor market data to potential green sectors so people can gain an understanding of trends, earnings, education levels, and skills associated with “green occupation clusters”. So far, we have made three general observations:  read more »

Numbers Don't Support Migration Exodus to "Cool Cities"


For the past decade a large coterie of pundits, prognosticators and their media camp followers have insisted that growth in America would be concentrated in places hip and cool, largely the bluish regions of the country.

Since the onset of the recession, which has hit many once-thriving Sun Belt hot spots, this chorus has grown bolder. The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently identified the "Next Youth-Magnet Cities" as drawn from the old "hip and cool" collection of yore: Seattle, Portland, Washington, New York and Austin, Texas.  read more »

Healthcare Reform or Health Insurance Bailout?


What is the real endgame of healthcare debate in Washington? Is it going to be a bailout of the insurance industry as opposed to a plan to provide healthcare for every American? The original jumping off point for this entire debate was that the United States is the only major industrialized country that does not have a national healthcare system. The debate has moved away from “how do you get healthcare” to “how do you get health insurance.”  read more »


Yes, Manufacturing Matters


Manufacturing employment has fallen below 12 million jobs for the first time since 1941, and manufacturing jobs as a percentage of total employment has fallen below 9%, the lowest level since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started collecting data in 1939. But annual manufacturing output per worker is also at a record high: $223,915 (in constant 2000 dollars). That's almost 3 times as much output per worker as in the early 1970s, and twice as much output per worker compared to the mid-1980s.

That has been the trend over the last 40 years: more output with fewer workers. That’s a good thing, or inevitable, or both – isn’t it? I used to think so; now I’m not so sure.  read more »


Let Freedom Ring: Democracy and Prosperity are Inextricably Linked


With autocratic states like China and Russia looking poised for economic recovery, it's often hard to make the case for ideals such as democracy and rule of law. To some, like Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules, autocrats seem destined to rule the world economy.  read more »

Executive Bonuses: The Junta In The Boardroom

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Public companies and their management boards are run with all the democratic coziness of banana republics. The object of the junta is to transfer the wealth of the shareholders into the bonuses and stock options of the management. As they used to say in China, “business is better than working.”

Amidst the outcry over excessive executive pay, it is worth noting that, in the caudillo management culture of many public corporations, there is nothing more annoying than a shareholder with an interest in the company that he or she partly owns. The most dreaded corporate day of the year is that of the annual meeting, when outside consultants are hired to screen bothersome questions and choreograph the happy gathering.  read more »

Property Owners Pay for City’s Dysfunction Under L.A.’s New Graffiti Ordinance


Graffiti is a bane of urban life, a form of vandalism that demoralizes entire neighborhoods and invites worse crime.

Graffiti is an art form and an outlet for expression amid the jumble and obvious strains of urban life.

You’ll hear arguments from both of those viewpoints, depending on who you talk to about graffiti.  read more »