The Green Movement’s People Problem

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

The once unstoppable green machine lost its mojo at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. After all its laboring and cajoling, the movement at the end resembled not a powerful juggernaut but a forlorn lover wondering why his date never showed up.

One problem is that the people of earth and their representatives don’t much fancy the notion of a centrally dictated, slow-growth world. They proved unwilling to abandon either national interest or material aspirations for promises of a greener world.

The other problem is that divisions are now developing within the green camp. There are members, like Michael Shellenger and Ted Nordhaus, who recognize the serious fall out from the “Climategate” scandal, while others, including large parts of the media claque, dismiss any such possibility. There are the corporatists aligned with big business–who will live with any agreement that allows them to exact monopoly profits–and the zealots–like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Bill McKibben–who see Copenhagen as an affront to themselves and to our endangered planet.

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Nurturing Employment Recovery

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Forbes.com

President Obama’s quick exit from Oslo and late arrival in Copenhagen suggest he’s finally ready to shift focus from Nordic adulation and fighting climate change and diplomacy to fixing the American economy. About time. As former Clinton adviser Bill Galston observed recently, the president needs “to pivot and make 2010 the year of jobs.”

White House operatives, as well as the Democrats in Congress, know high unemployment could bring big political trouble next year. But in their rush to create new jobs, policy makers would do well to focus on the quality of jobs created over the next year and beyond.

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Capping Emissions, Trading On The Future

Whatever the results of the Copenhagen conference on climate change, one thing is for sure: Draconian reductions on carbon emissions will be tacitly accepted by the most developed economies and sloughed off by many developing ones. In essence, emerging economies get to cut their “carbon” intensity–a natural product of their economic evolution–while we get to cut our throats.

The logic behind this prediction goes something like this. Since the West created the industrial revolution and the greenhouse gases that supposedly caused this “crisis,” it’s our obligation to take much of the burden for cleaning them up.

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The World’s Smartest Cities

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Forbes.com

In today’s parlance a “smart” city often refers to a place with a “green” sustainable agenda. Yet this narrow definition of intelligence ignores many other factors–notably upward mobility and economic progress–that have characterized successful cities in the past.

The green-only litmus test dictates cities should emulate either places with less-than-dynamic economies, like Portland, Ore., or Honolulu, or one of the rather homogeneous and staid Scandinavian capitals. In contrast, I have determined my “smartest” cities not only by looking at infrastructure and livability, but also economic fundamentals.

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It’s A Mall World After All

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Forbes.com

If Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants a taste of home during his visit to Washington this week, he might consider a trip to McLean, Va., home to the region’s largest indoor mall, Tysons Corner Center. After all, there are few groups more mall-crazy than India’s expanding affluent class.

Back here in the U.S., urban boosters and planners like to predict that malls are “vanishing.” But while consumer-deflated America may suffer from mall fatigue and a hangover from overbuilding, much of the developing world has experienced no such malaise. In 2000, for example, India was virtually mall-less. Today it has several hundred, with scores of new ones on the drawing boards.

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Boomer Economy Stunting Growth in Northern California

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Forbes.com

The road north across the Golden Gate leads to some of the prettiest counties in North America. Yet behind the lovely rolling hills, wineries, ranches and picturesque once-rural towns lies a demographic time bomb that neither political party is ready to address.

Paradise is having a problem with the evolving economy. A generational conflict is brewing, pitting the interests and predilections of well-heeled boomers against a growing, predominately Latino working class. And neither the emerging “progressive” politics nor laissez-faire conservatism is offering much in the way of a solution.

These northern California counties–which include Sonoma, Napa, Solano and Marin–have become beacons for middle- and upper-class residents from the Bay Area. These generally liberal people came in part to enjoy the lifestyle of this mild, bucolic region, and many have little interest in changing it.

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Obama Can Still Save His Presidency

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Forbes.com

A good friend of mine, a Democratic mayor here in California, describes the Obama administration as “Moveon.org run by the Chicago machine.” This combination may have been good enough to beat John McCain in 2008, but it is proving a damned poor way to run a country or build a strong, effective political majority. And while the president’s charismatic talent–and the lack of such among his opposition–may keep him in office, it will be largely as a kind of permanent lame duck unable to make any of the transformative changes he promised as a candidate.

If Obama wants to succeed as president he must grow into something more than movement icon, become more of a national leader. In effect, he needs to hit the reset button. Here are five key changes that Obama can implement to re-energize and save his presidency.

1. Forget the “Chicago way.” The Windy City is a one-party town with a shrinking middle class and a fully co-opted business elite. The focused democratic centralism of the machine–as the University of Illinois’ Richard Simpson has noted–worked brilliantly in the primaries and even the general election campaign. But it is hardly suited to running a nation that is more culturally and politically diverse.

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GOP Needs Economic Populism

Appearing in:

Politico.com

You would think, given the massive dissatisfaction with an economy that guarantees mega-bonuses for the rich and continued high unemployment, that the GOP would smell an opportunity. In my travels around the country — including in midstream places like suburban Kansas City and Kentucky — few, including Democrats, express any faith in the president’s basic economic strategy.

Ask a local mayor or chamber of commerce executive in Kentucky or Kansas City about the stimulus, and at best you get a shrug. Many feel the only people really benefiting from Obamanomics are Wall Street grandees, public employees, subsidized “green” companies and various other professional rent seekers. Read more

Let Freedom Ring: Democracy and Prosperity are Inextricably Linked

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Forbes.com

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.

A columnist for the Guardian, Jacques predicted that by 2050 China will easily surpass America economically, militarily and politically. The belief in the power of autocracy even extends to such leading American capitalists as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who have nothing but high praise for what Gates enthusiastically describes as a “brand-new form of capitalism.”

Fortunately a new study released Monday by my colleagues at the Legatum Institute refutes the notion that the road to worldly riches lies in autocracy and repression. In a careful study of everything from economic opportunity, education and health to security, freedom of expression and societal contentment, the Legatum “Prosperity Index” makes a powerful case for the long-term benefits of democracy, free speech and the rule of law.

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Stimulate Yourself!

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Forbes.com

Beltway politicians and economists can argue themselves silly about the impact of the Obama administration’s stimulus program, but outside the beltway the discussion is largely over. On the local level–particularly outside the heavily politicized big cities–the consensus seems to be that the stimulus has changed little–if anything.

Recently, I met with a couple of dozen mayors and city officials in Kentucky to discuss economic growth. The mayors spoke of their initiatives and ideas, yet hardly anyone mentioned the stimulus.

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