Borderline Reality

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For years, economic and social observers have taken to redrawing our borders to better define our situation and to attempt to predict the future. Maybe you thought the global financial meltdown has raised anxiety levels in the United States quite enough. But a Russian professor’s decade old prediction of national disintegration suggests much worse on the way.  read more »

Baby Boomers: The Generation That Lost America

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Tom Brokaw named our parents The Greatest Generation. They came of age during The Great Depression and defeated Fascism, Nazism and Communism. They built the Interstate Highway System and landed a man on the moon. They built the great American middle class with safe communities and public schools that were the envy of the world. They deserve the title of The Greatest Generation. One of their few criticisms is that they spoiled us boomers, adhering to the teaching of Dr. Benjamin Spock.  read more »

From Bush's Cowboy to Obama's Collusive Capitalism

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Race may be the thing that most obviously distinguishes President Barack Obama from his predecessors, but his biggest impact may be in transforming the nature of class relations — and economic life — in the United States.

In basic terms, the president is overseeing a profound shift from cowboy to what may be best described as collusive capitalism. This form of capitalism rejects the essential free-market theology embraced by the cowboys, supplanting it with a more managed, highly centralized form of cohabitation between the government apparat and the economic elite.  read more »

Move to Suburbs Continues in Western Europe

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Despite the assertions of some planners and urban boosters, urban core population loss has been the rule since mid-century throughout the metropolitan areas of Western Europe (see note below). For example, the ville de Paris lost a quarter of its population from 1954 to 1999, Copenhagen shrank 39 percent from 1950 to 1991, inner London (This includes the 13 inner boroughs and the “city” of London, which are roughly the former London County Council area) declined by a third from 1951 to 1991 while Milan‘s population declined by a quarter from 1971 to 2001.  read more »

Chrysler: Detroit Loses Its Muscle

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With the clock finally running out for Chrysler, I was reminded of a theme that has run through most of my corporate work, namely that corporate culture is the element of any organization most resistant to change. As I have read (and written) many times, senior management and new management schemes come and go, but the prevalent attitude among the permanent work force is “this too shall pass.” The senior managers move on, and the culture reverts. It takes a “burning platform” to effect real change.  read more »

Geithner’s Reforms: More Power to the Center May Appeal to Europeans, But Won’t Work for U.S.

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There will be much talk in London about global financial regulation, particularly from the Europeans. But don’t count on it ever coming into existence.

At a House Financial Services Committee on March 26 Treasury Secretary Geithner testified that this particular subject “will be at the center of the agenda at the upcoming Leaders’ Summit of the G-20 in London on April 2.”  read more »

London Calling: Bad News For Home Buyers

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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 »

Kansas City and the Great Plains is a Zone of Sanity

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Over the past year, coverage of the economy appears like a soap opera written by a manic-depressive. Yet once you get away from the coasts – where unemployment is skyrocketing and economies collapsing – you enter what may be best to call the zone of sanity.

The zone starts somewhere in Texas and goes through much of the Great Plains all the way to the Mexican border. It covers a vast region where unemployment is relatively low, foreclosures still rare and much of the economy centers on the production of basic goods like foodstuffs, specialized equipment and energy.  read more »

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

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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 »

Whatever Happened to “The Vision Thing?”

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When I was in elementary school, I remember reading about the remarkable transformations that the future would bring: Flying cars, manned colonies on the moon, humanoid robotic servants. Almost half a century later, none of these promises of the future – and many, many more – have come to pass. Yet, in many respects, these visions from the future served their purpose in allowing us to imagine a world far more wondrous than the one we were in at the time, to aspire to something greater.  read more »