Stimulate Manufacturing and Production, Not Consumption and Consumerism

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As store earnings plunged last week, the National Retail Federation proposed that the country create the mother of all sales by suspending taxes on all purchases. These tax holidays would occur in March, July and October and be national in scope.

The bill, they suggested, should be picked up by – who else? – the federal taxpayer, who would make up for the lost local revenues even for the five states without sales taxes. The rationale, suggests the Federation's chairman, J.C. Penney Chief Executive Myron Ullman III, in a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, would be "to help stimulate consumer spending as one of the first priorities of your new administration."  read more »

The Importance of Productivity in National Transportation Policy

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For years, transit funding advocates have claimed that national policy favors highways over transit. Consistent with that view, Congressman James Oberstar, chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants to change the funding mix. He is looking for 40 percent of the transportation funding from the proposed stimulus package to be spent on transit, which is a substantial increase from present levels.

This raises two important questions: The first question is that of “equity” – “what would be the appropriate level to spend on transit?” The second question relates to “productivity” – “what would be the effect of spending more on transit?”  read more »

A Housing Boom, but for Whom?

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By Susanne Trimbath and Juan Montoya

We just passed an era when the “American Dream” of home ownership was diminished as the growth of home prices outpaced income. From 2001 through 2006, home prices grew at an annual average of 6.85%, more than three times the growth rate for income.

This divergence between income and housing costs has turned out to be a disaster, particularly for buyers at the lower end of the spectrum. In contrast, affluent buyers – those making over $120,000 – the bubble may still have been a boom, even if not quite as large as many had hoped for.  read more »

Oregon’s Fringes: A New Rural Alternative

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Once the bastion of a thriving rural middle class, Oregon’s rural communities are now barely scraping by. The state’s timber industry employed 81,400 residents at its peak in 1978. At the time, the industry made up 49% of all manufacturing jobs in the state according to the Oregon Employment Department.

Since then, the recessions of the early eighties and nineties, increased land-use restriction, decreased timber supply, global competition and automation of the timber industry have devastated rural communities that relied on once-plentiful timber jobs.  read more »

Phantom Bonds Update: The New Treasury Bond Owner's Manual

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Shortly after my piece on Phantom Bonds, Blame Wall Street's Phantom Bonds For The Credit Crisis, posted here on NewGeography.com in November, a friend called from New York to ask if I’d seen the latest news. Bloomberg News reported on December 10 that “…The three-year note auction drew a yield of 1.245 percent, the lowest on record... The three-month bill rate [fell] to minus 0.01 percent yesterday.” The US Treasury is seeing interest rates on its notes that are “the lowest since it started auctioning them in 1929.”

My friend is an intelligent person, a lawyer who managed to accumulate more than $1 million working a 9-to-5 job in a not-for-profit firm and retire in her 50s. Some of her portfolio is in Treasury bonds, so she had a lot of questions. In the course of our conversation, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to explain all she needed to know on the phone, despite her background. I decided to write this short owner’s manual.  read more »

America Has No Cause to Fear Political Dynasties

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It’s been a tough winter for those concerned about dynastic politics.

One-time First Daughter Caroline Kennedy is angling for a Senate appointment from the governor of New York. In Delaware Vice President-elect Joe Biden tapped a longtime aide as a placeholder for the Senate seat he will soon vacate, so his son, state Attorney General Beau Biden, will have a leg up in the 2010 special election. And an oft-mentioned Colorado Senate replacement for Interior Secretary-Designate Ken Salazar is his brother, Rep. John Salazar.  read more »

Subjects:

Good-Bye, Gentry

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The proposed investiture of Caroline Kennedy as the replacement senator for Hillary Clinton has inspired a surprising degree of opposition – at least from other claimants to the throne, such as the Cuomos, and from those obstreperous parvenues, the Clintons.

Perhaps less obvious may be a wider disdain expressed by even liberal New Yorkers who feel Kennedy's elevation may be one celebrity rising too many. Although the big New York editorial boards are expected to line up, like so many obedient lap dogs, grassroots dissent seethes.  read more »

Will the Bubble Burst Aspen?

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Aspen is a great town. Its uniqueness extends beyond its spectacular geography to its amenities, people and community spirit. It’s a world-class, year-round Rocky Mountain resort offering great food, music, skiing, shopping – great everything – right in the middle of a real, functioning, small American community.

It’s no surprise people like it, want to keep it going. And not just the good, smart people who live in Aspen full-time and those who own second homes there (including some of the wealthiest people on Earth), but the thousands of good, smart people who visit every year to address big issues at the Aspen Institute and numerous other forums. These include elites of American arts, sciences, politics and economics with amazing amounts of brainpower and money at their disposal.

But geographic realities plus inexorable economic, demographic, and social trends are conspiring against the best of intentions. The future of Aspen – playground to the smart, rich and famous – may soon become untenable.  read more »

Postindustrial Strength Brain Drain Policy

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In the discussions of the stimulus and infrastructure problem, little attention has yet been paid to addressing brain drain. Yet for many regions – particularly in the old industrial heartland – no issue could be more critical.

Perhaps the most important investment in regional human capital occurs at local schools. Enterprise looks to the secondary and post-secondary institutions within the area for labor. In this regard, it makes sense to fund better learning with local and state taxes as long as that talent remains within that geography.  read more »

Go North Young Man

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With his foreign policy team now in place, President-elect Barack Obama certainly will be urged to make his first forays into high profile places like Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, as well as to greet his devoted fan base in Europe.

But before heading off on the diplomatic grand tour, he might do well to turn his attention first to the country with which we have the closest political, economic and environmental ties: Canada. Although not as momentous or sexy a locale as Paris or Jerusalem, Ottawa could well hold the key to developing a bold new strategy for America in an increasingly incoherent and multi-polar world.  read more »