Explaining Southern California's economy

Charles Murray and the challenge of being rich and white

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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Unemployed Americans line up to enter a job fair on the first day of the Labor Day long weekend in the City of El Monte outside of Los Angeles on September 4, 2010. US unemployment jumped to 9.6 percent in August, the Labor Department said, showing the recovering economy is still struggling to create jobs.

I've held off for a bit on writing about Charles Murray's new book, "Coming Apart: The State of Whiteness in America 1960-2010." I wanted to see how his thesis was sorted out by various commenters, after I first came across an excerpt a few weeks back in the Wall Street Journal. It might be Murray's best work yet, although it's sure to provoke years of heated debate. The book is vintage Murray: it's "Bowling Alone" with a right-ish agenda, "Stuff White People Like" with piles of hard data. NPR gets hammered. The "elites" are scolded like spoiled children.

Just for the record, I've strongly disagreed with Murray's views on education, outlined here a few years ago. I think everybody should go to college, if they want. And it's up to us as a society to figure out how to make that happen. Murray thinks that a four-year university education may not a useful path for many Americans. But it's increasingly the only path to economic competitiveness.

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Where's the inflation? It's Ron Paul versus Ben Bernanke

There's probably no more dogged critic of the Federal Reserve than Ron Paul, the Texas Republican congressman who's also running — and running, and running — for President. Paul had a halfway decent showing in the most recent primaries and caucuses. And there's a school of political thought that figures his staunch base and need to spend very little money to stay in the race will keep him hanging around long after more legitimate contenders had dropped out. Plus, he has an heir in his son Rand Paul, a Kentucky Senator. 

Ron Paul is the most economic of the current crop of Republican presidential candiates. There are times when his entire campaign seems based not on solving domestic problems, nor pursuing America's foreign policy, but on getting rid of the twin evils of paper money and the Federal Reserve. A lot of people find Paul sort of daffy. See the video I've embedded above, in which he meanders through a host of very Ron Paulist conspiracy theories, laconically foiled by the Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke.

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Business don't need no stinkin' philosophers!

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Matthew DeBord

Welcome to Idealab, a new business incubator founded in 1996 and located in Pasadena, Calif.

Bronwyn Fryer has a sneakily important post at the Harvard Business Review blog. It's about how completely essentially it is for business to have what she calls "idea fusers" — people who can practice synthetic thinking, figuring out how to stick seemingly disparate pieces of production, data, insight, strategy — whatever — together to yield breakout results. I have my own term for this: "free range thinking." 

When I was in grad school, we commonly called this approach "dialectical," echoing the Marxist view that history was a process of two opposing ideas conflicting — or ideas developing internal conflicts — until they produced a third option. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. The concept was actually adapted from Hegel, the study of which was to Marx what rocket science is to lawn mower repair (sorry, Karl).

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Chevys and Twinkies both survive the apocalypse...and bankruptcy?

I think my favorite Super Bowl commercial was from Chevy. In it, a guy driving his Silverado pickup with his dog discovers that he's survived the Mayan 2012 apocalypse. As grateful man and beast drive through a ruined landscape, the rubble of cities, flaming Big Boys, with spacecraft crashed along roadsides, volcanoes erupting, and asteroids still hurtling toward the Earth from space, they realize their good forture as Barry Manilow serendes them with "Looks Like We Made It." They then discover that they aren't alone. Other Chevy owners have also survived. And the Ford owner? Well, he didn't make it.

But the Twinkies did! Interestingly, Chevy had to survive General Motors' bankruptcy in 2009 to be able to survive the 2012 end of the world. The company that makes Twinkies, Hostess Brands, also came through bankruptcy, back in 2009 after declaring Chapter 11 in 2004. It just declared bankruptcy again, however. In TV land, the apocalypse probably put an end to all that. Luckily, as it turns out — we all knew Twinkies would survive, even if we weren't sure about Chevys.

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The app economy: Jobs boom...or bubble?

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DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

Are apps where the jobs are? Maybe not.

A couple of people called my attention to this report from TechNet, on the apparent jobs boom in the so-called "app economy." Here's Slate's Matt Yglesias, who considers it a positive trend — with a future:

[TechNet economist Michael Mandel's] basic point is an extremely sound one. As I've argued before, doing the same old thing but doing it with a smartphone ap is a huge part of the future of innovation in America. A little processor power plus constant internet connectivity plus location services plus a camera has incredibly broad applications for all kinds of everyday service delivery and this, rather than building devices, is where the big economic impact comes in. 

Apple might disagree with this, given its recent, iPhone-fueled financial results. You could certainly argue that there was no app economy — and none of the 466,000 jobs created by it since 2007, according to TechNet — without the Apple App Store. Which came first? The App platform, in the iPhone. Build it and they will come.

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