Boomer Economy Stunting Growth in Northern California

Appearing in:

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

Appearing in:

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

Appearing in:

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!

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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