Rome Vs. Gotham

Appearing in:

Forbes

Urban politicians have widely embraced the current concentration of power in Washington, but they may soon regret the trend they now so actively champion. The great protean tradition of American urbanism–with scores of competing economic centers–is giving way to a new Romanism, in which all power and decisions devolve down to the imperial core.

This is big stuff, perhaps even more important than the health care debate. The consequence could be a loss of local control, weakening the ability of cities to respond to new challenges in the coming decades.

The Obama administration’s aggressive federal regulatory agenda, combined with the recession, has accelerated this process. As urban economies around the country lose jobs and revenues, the D.C. area is not merely experiencing “green shoots” but blossoming like lilies of the field.

To be sure, the capital region has been growing fat on the rest of America for decades, but its staggering success amid the recession is remarkable. Take unemployment: Although the district itself has relatively high rates, unemployment in Virginia and Maryland–where most government-related workers live–has remained around 7% while the nation’s rate approaches 10%.

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The New Radicals

Appearing in:

Forbes

America’s “kumbaya” moment has come and gone. The nation’s brief feel-good era initiated by Barack Obama’s stirring post-partisan rhetoric–and fortified by John McCain’s classy concession speech–has dissolved into sectarian bickering more appropriate to dysfunctional Iraq than the world’s greatest democratic republic.

Yet little of the shouting concerns the fundamental economic issue facing the U.S. today: the decline of upward mobility and income growth for the working and middle classes. Instead we have politicos battling over two versions of “trickle down” economics.

The Democrats seem bent on installing a permanent ruling mandarinate alongside a small financial aristocracy. The Republicans, meanwhile, simply want to help the rich hold onto as much of their money as possible. Read more

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

The Next Culture War

Appearing in:

Forbes

The culture war over religion and values that dominated much of the last quarter of the 20th century has ended, mostly in a rout of the right-wing zealots who waged it.

Yet even as this old conflict has receded , a new culture war may be beginning. This one is being launched largely by the religious right’s long-time secularist enemies who are now enjoying unprecedented influence over our national politics. Read more

Who Killed California’s Economy?

Appearing in:

Forbes

Right now California’s economy is moribund, and the prospects for a quick turnaround are not good. Unable to pay its bills, the state is issuing IOUs; its once strong credit rating has collapsed. The state that once boasted the seventh-largest gross domestic product in the world is looking less like a celebrated global innovator and more like a fiscal basket case along the lines of Argentina or Latvia.

It took some amazing incompetence to toss this best-endowed of places down into the dustbin of history. Yet conventional wisdom views the crisis largely as a legacy of Proposition 13, which in effect capped only taxes.

This lets too many malefactors off the hook. I covered the Proposition 13 campaign for the Washington Post and examined its aftermath up close. It passed because California was running huge surpluses at the time, even as soaring property taxes were driving people from their homes.

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Amid Obama’s Change is More of the Same

Appearing in:

Politico

The Obama administration has been, so far, hierarchical and even conservative in its thinking. Following and even surpassing the Bush administration’s reliance on an M.B.A.-trained elite, which drove the country nearly to ruin, the Obama approach seems to boil down to finding the smartest guy in the room, rather than utilizing people with hands-on experience or acquired wisdom.

This fixation on hierarchy has been unexpected for an administration whose stock sold on the notion of being something other than the same old, same old. Yet as it turns out, the Obamanians seem to be as narrow, if not narrower, than their much-disdained predecessors. Read more

Why The Left Is Questioning Its Hero

Appearing in:

Forbes

Much has been made by the national media and the markets about the emergence from our desiccated economic soil of what President Obama has called “green shoots.” But although the economy may already be slowly regenerating (largely due to its natural resiliency), we need to question whether these fledglings will grow into healthy plants or a crop of crabgrass.

The political right has made many negative assessments of the president’s approach, decrying the administration’s huge jump in deficit spending and penchant for ever more expansive regulatory control of the economy. Polling data by both The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal shows some growing unease about both the expanding federal role in the economy and the growing mountain of debt.

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Europe: No Longer A Role Model For America

Appearing in:

Forbes

For decades many in the American political and policy establishment–including close supporters of President Obama–have looked enviously at the bureaucratic powerhouse of the European Union. In everything from climate change to civil liberties to land use regulation, Europe long has charmed those visionaries, particularly on the left, who wish to remake America in its image.

“There is much to be said for being a Denmark or Sweden, even a Great Britain, France or Italy,” wrote political scientist Andrew Hacker in his 1971 book The End of the American Era .This refrain has been picked up again more recently by the likes of Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid and economist Jeremy Rifkin. Just last year, international relations scholar Parag Khanna shared his vision of a “shrunken” America lucky to eke out a meager existence between a “triumphant China” and a “retooled Europe.”

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Britain’s Labour Lessons For Obama

Appearing in:

Forbes

LONDON – The thrashing of Britain’s New Labour Party – which came in a weak third in local and European Parliament elections this week – may seem a minor event compared to Barack Obama’s triumphal overseas tour. Yet in many ways the humiliation of New Labour should send some potential warning shots across the bow of the good ship Obama.

Labour’s defeat, of course, stemmed in part from local conditions, notably a cascading Parliamentary expense scandal that appears most damaging to the party in power. Yet beyond those sordid details lies a more grave tale – of the possible decline of the phenomenon I describe as gentry liberalism.

Gentry liberalism – which reached its height in Britain earlier this decade and is currently peaking in the U.S. – melded traditional left-of-center constituencies, such as organized labor and ethnic minorities, with an expanding class of upper-class professionals from field like media, finance and technology.

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Obama’s Energy Triangulation

Appearing in:

Politico

With the possible exception of health care reform, no major issue presents more political opportunities and potential pitfalls for President Barack Obama than energy. A misstep over energy policy could cause serious economic, social and political consequences that could continue over the next decade.

To succeed in revising American energy policy, the president will need to try to triangulate three different priorities: energy security, environmental protection and the need for economic growth. Right now, the administration would like to think it could have all three, but these concerns often collide more than they align. Read more