Stimulate Yourself!

Appearing in:

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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Mexico’s Real War: It’s Not Drugs

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

Balding, affable and passionate, Uranio Adolfo Arrendondo may not be a general or political leader, but he stands on the front lines of a critical battle facing Mexico in the coming decade. This struggle is not primarily about the drug wars, which dominate the media coverage–and thus our perceptions–of our southern neighbor. It concerns the economic and political forces stunting the aspirations of its people.

For the past 36 years, Arrendondo’s small family-owned school, Liceo Reforma Educativa, where he is principal, has served as an incubator for Mexico City’s aspiring middle class. Modest and reasonably priced, the school has offered small-business owners, professionals and mid-level managers a way to propel their children up the economic ladder.

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Play It Cool at the G-20, Mr. President

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

Barack Obama goes to this week’s Pittsburgh G-20 with what seems the weakest hand of any American president since Gerald Ford. In reality, he has a far stronger set of cards to play–he just needs to recognize it.

Our adversaries may like our new president, but they don’t fear him. And, on the surface, why should they? The national debt is rising faster than the vig for a compulsive, debt-ridden gambler. And our primary rivals, the Chinese, continue to put the squeeze on American producers by devaluing their currency, subsidizing exports and penalizing imports.

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California’s Golden Age

Appearing in:

Truthdig.com

California may yet be a civilization that is too young to have produced its Thucydides or Edward Gibbon, but if it has, the leading candidate would be Kevin Starr. His eight-part “Dream” series on the evolution of the Golden State stands alone as the basic comprehensive work on California. Nothing else comes remotely close.

His most recent volume, “Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963,” covers what might be seen as the state’s true Golden Age. To be sure, there is some intriguing history before—the evolution of Hollywood in the 1920s, the reaction to the Depression and the fevered buildup during the Second World War—but this was California’s great moment, its Periclean peak or Augustan age. Read more

The Kid Issue

Appearing in:

Forbes

Japan’s recent election, which overthrew the decades-long hegemony of the Liberal Democratic Party, was remarkable in its own right. But perhaps its most intriguing aspect was not the dawning of a new era but the emergence of the country’s low birthrate as a major political concern.

Many Japanese recognize that their birth dearth contributes to the country’s long-standing economic torpor. The kid issue was prominent in the campaign of newly elected Democratic Party Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who promised to increase the current $100 a month subsidy per child to $280 and make public high school free. The Liberal Democrats also proposed their own pro-natalist program with a scheme for free child day care.

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World Capitals Of The Future

Appearing in:

Forbes

For most of those which were great once are small today; And those that used to be small were great in my own time. Knowing, therefore, that human prosperity never abides long in the same place, I shall pay attention to both alike

–Herodotus, Fifth Century B.C.

If the great Greek chronicler and “father of history” Herodotus were alive today, he would have whiplash. In less than a lifetime, we have seen the rapid rise of a host of dynamic new global cities – and the relative decline of many others. With a majority of the world’s population now living in cities, what these places do with their new wealth ultimately will shape this first truly urban century.

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California Disease: Oregon at Risk of Economic Malady

Appearing in:

The Oregonian

California has been exporting people to Oregon for many years, even amid the recession in both states.

Indeed, the 2005 American Community Survey report shows that California-to-Oregon migration was 56,379 in 2005, the sixth-largest interstate flow in the United States. The 2000 census showed a five-year flow of 138,836 people, the eighth-largest over that time period. Until two years ago, Oregon was managing to absorb this population with mixed results, but generally as part of an expanding and diversifying economy. But that pattern has ended, at least for now.

So now what will Oregon do with a suddenly excess population? California, at least, can say its emigres over time will reduce unemployment and reduce out-of-whack property prices. The immediate net benefits for Oregon are harder to discern. Read more

Green Jobs Can’t Save The Economy

Appearing in:

Forbes

Nothing is perhaps more pathetic than the exertions of economic developers and politicians grasping at straws, particularly during hard times. Over the past decade, we have turned from one panacea to another, from the onset of the information age to the creative class to the boom in biotech, nanotech and now the “green economy.”

This latest economic fad is supported by an enormous industry comprising nonprofits, investment banks, venture capitalists and their cheerleaders in the media. Their song: that “green” jobs will rescue our still weak economy while saving the planet. Ironically, what they all fail to recognize is that the thing that would spur green jobs most is economic growth.

All told, green jobs constitute barely 700,000 positions across the country – less than 0.5% of total employment. That’s about how many jobs the economy lost in January this year. Indeed a recent study by Sam Sherraden at the center-left New America Foundation finds that, for the most part, green jobs constitute a negligible factor in employment – and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Policymakers, he warns, should avoid “overpromising about the jobs and investment we can expect from government spending to support the green economy.”

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Forget Second Stimulus; We Need Economic Vision

Appearing in:

Politico

As the American economy slowly heals, the Obama administration will no doubt claim some credit for its $787 billion stimulus — and perhaps even suggest doubling down for a second stage. Republicans, for their part, will place their emphasis on the “slow” part of the equation and persistent high unemployment, blaming the very same stimulus program.

Whatever the politics, no new stimulus should be considered unless it deals with the fundamental illness undermining the country’s long-term economic prospects. Such a stimulus would address the country’s essential problem: persistent overconsumption amid underproduction. Read more

Tracking Business Services: Best And Worst Cities For High-Paying Jobs

Appearing in:

Forbes

Media coverage of America’s best jobs usually focuses on blue-collar sectors, like manufacturing, or elite ones, such as finance or technology. But if you’re seeking high-wage employment, your best bet lies in the massive “business and professional services” sector.

This unsung division of the economy is basically a mirror of any and all productive industry. It includes everything from human resources and administration to technical and scientific positions, as well as accounting, legal and architectural firms. Read more