Australia 2010: Unstable Politics in a Prosperous Country

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2010 has been something of an annus mirabilis in Australian politics. On 24 June a prime minister was dumped before facing the voters a second time. This was the first time ever for such an early exit. Then the election on 22 August produced a “hung parliament”, an outcome not seen since the 1940s. Having fallen short of enough seats to form government, the major parties are scrambling for the support of four independents and one Green in the House of Representatives.  read more »

Summer in the Hamptons: UnReal Estate

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If you are looking for a place where you can, in your day dreams, ride out the recession, might I suggest one of the Hamptons? These are the celebrity-drenched villages that stretch for thirty miles across the sand dunes and potato fields of Long Island’s South Fork, which ends at Montauk Point and its lighthouse.

Why the Hamptons for a depression-era exile? For starters, if you’re a seller, the Hamptons remain Paradise. Fishermen’s cottages start at $1 million, oceanfront property goes for about $7 million an acre, and the street value of guacamole rivals that of cocaine.  read more »

Subjects:

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 »

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 »

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 »