Explaining Southern California's economy

The day the economists failed

In this three photo combo, Professor of


Paul Krugman isn't happy about how economists handled the financial crisis.

Just catching up with this. It's the text of Paul Krugman's speech upon receiving some honorary degrees in Spain. It's well worth a full read. There's some wonky econo-speak, but Krugman's labors as a New York Times op-ed columnist have enabled him to convey some complex ideas with admirable clarity. 

Quick summary: the economists failed when the financial crisis hit. When the economy isn't in crisis, economists are basically useless. But when it all goes to hell, they're urgently needed and must to be ready to offer the best possible advice. 

Krugman thinks he and his fellow economists blew it, mainly because they descended into ideological and intellectual squabbling after the initial, successful response to the crisis was mustered.

He starts by blaming himself. This small portion of the speech, to me, explains a lot about how even a public intellectual/academic economist like Krugman could be blindsided:


Electric car revenge in Pasadena

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Bryan Mitchell, Getty Images

The Nissan Leaf prototype electric car on display during the press preview for the world automotive media North American International Auto Show in 2010.

At KPCC's Crawford Family Forum tonight, I'll be moderating a panel discussion on electric cars, right after a screening of director Chris Paine's "Revenge of the Electric Car" — the follow-up to his hit documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

Joining Chris and myself on the panel will be Geoff Wardle, the Director of Advanced Mobility Research at Art Center College of Design and a veteran of the global auto industry; and Brandy Schaffels, Senior Editor and Content Manager at TrueCar.com, a Santa Monica-based startup that provides consumers with transparent auto-buying information and industry analysis.

I'm looking forward to this event, as I used to cover the global auto industry, for Slate and CBS.com. Where the electric car is headed, now that they seem to be here to stay, is a question I think our panelists will be able to answer in lively, interesting ways.


February jobs report: Better than January?

A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to


A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to the US Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, DC.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will release its February jobs report on Friday. The January report was better than expected, with the country adding 243,000 jobs and the unemployment rate falling to 8.3 percent. The big question for February is, "Will the improving trend continue?"

Chances are good. The ADP report — which hasn't been all that reliable a predictor of the BLS data of late — came out today and said that the economy had added 216,000 new jobs, barely beating the Bloomberg consensus, which expects a nearly identical 215,000. 

Meanwhile, Business Insider engaged in a very elaborate piece of analysis and came up with — wait for it — 285,000! That would be, as BI notes, the best monthly jobs report in six years. I like that BI zeroes in on auto sales as a key predictor. February saw sales rise to a 15-million annual pace, more than two million better than 2011. 


For Matter, Kickstarter is advertising plus money

There's been a lot of discussion recently about Matter and its swift fundraising on Kickstarter, bringing in over $100,000 in just over a week (I've embedded the pitch video above). Felix Salmon thinks Matter has merit. Stephen Morse thinks it doesn't. You can watch them debate their positions here.

During the course of their he-said/he-said, the question of whether it's a good or bad thing for Matter to be avoiding venture capital funding came up. Felix summarizes:

In our debate, Morse snarked that no one down below us, in Times Square, had heard of Jim Giles or Bobbie Johnson, the co-founders of Matter. And in saying that he revealed his broader mindset: that of a would-be internet entrepreneur who raises venture funding by using the words “platform” and “scale” a lot while promising things like “explosive growth”. It’s no great secret that Giles and Johnson have talked to VCs, many of whom have been very supportive. But what they’re building doesn’t lend itself to the VC business model, where you either have monster, multi-million-dollar success, or else you die trying.

Morse uses the fact that Matter doesn’t have VC funding as a count against them, when in fact it’s a great count in their favor. VCs provide two things: money and advice. And Matter’s getting the advice; it’s just doing so without having to sell its soul to people wanting a monster return on their investment. All it needs to do, at least in the first instance, is pay for itself. And at the end of our debate, Morse finally came up with a number: if Matter can get 20,000 paying customers each week, he said, then he sees a sustainable model there.


Meet the new iPad: It's faster and costs a lot

Apple Unveils Updated iPad In San Francisco

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 07: Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple product launch event at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 7, 2012 in San Francisco, California. In the first product release following the death of Steve Jobs, Apple Inc. introduced the third version of the iPad and an updated Apple TV. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The much-anticipated Apple iPad event today continues a worrisome trend for the company. The iPhone 4S launched last year, and it's main new feature was the Siri voice-interface. Now the updated iPad arrives — it's unclear whether we can call it the iPad 3, but we will anyway — and the big news is that the 4G version will cost $829, and that the older base iPad 2 will go on sale for $399.

So there's new. But where's the new new? It will have to wait for the true iPad 3. And the iPhone 5. Perhaps.

This is from Reuters:

The newest iPad will be capable of operating on a high-speed 4G "LTE" or Long-Term Evolution network. At speeds roughly 10 times faster than current 3G technology, that may help banish the sometimes shaky video quality of older devices.

Apple is betting a 4G-equipped iPad will tempt more U.S. consumers to pay extra for higher-quality video on the go. That, in turn, should give Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc a revenue boost, analysts say.

Until now, buyers have been reluctant to shell out extra cash even for iPads with slower 3G connections. The cheaper Wi-Fi-only model - with much more limited Web access - is by far Apple's top-selling one today.