Explaining Southern California's economy

A conversation with Michael Rossi at Drucker Day

The video above is my conversation with Michael Rossi, whom Gov. Jerry Brown asked earlier this year to serve as Senior Advisor for Jobs and Business Development. Rossi's is an impressive guy with a formidable background in banking and business. During the course of our talk, which took place last month at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at the Claremont Graduate University, we discussed the California jobs crisis, Rossi's personal story, and some of his ideas for how California can — and will — remain competitive in the 21st century.

Be sure to take note of the moment when Rossi asks the audience what was the best infrastructure investment California ever made. The answer (hint: it's not a bridge or highway) says a lot about his priorities and what he believes is necessary to become a successful individual.

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Building a business, one family member at a time

Last night, KPCC presented a really terrific panel discussion at the Crawford Family Forum, "All in the Familia: L.A. Latino Business in the 21st Century," moderated by my blogging colleague Leslie Berestein Rojas. The four panelists — and their extended families — represented four well-known LA-region family businesses: Portos Bakery & Cafe, Gaviña Gourmet Coffee, Guelaguetza Restaurante, and Tapatio Hot Sauce.

I've heard plenty of discussions about business, but this one was special. Business leaders, even family business leaders, are usually more than happy to talk about how they built their enterprises. But they don't usually talk about the process in such moving, personal ways. 

I think everyone who aspires to start a company, in any industry, should listen to what the panelists have to say. And, lo, they can. The CFF team has made the panel's conversation available online. Check it out!

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Is the California lottery's $100 million jackpot worth a shot?

The California lottery's Mega Millions jackpot is up to $100 million (Mega-Millions is actually a multi-state lottery, an aggregate of 42 lotteries). That's a pretty nice chunk of change and should bring out many more players, even infrequent ones — and even ones who never play. What we're talking about here are the people who understand the odds against winning. So why would they change their minds, simply because the jackpot has crossed a threshold?

For starters, you have to understand why these folks don't play. The site Strange Loops explains:

Odds of winning big are less than the ratio of ticket cost to amount won. If $1 has a 1 in 1-billion chance of netting you 500 million dollars, it’s a really bad deal. Why?

Let’s say you could play the lottery over and over and over again an unlimited number of times. After a trillion plays, on average you’d win about 1000 times (roughly once every billion draws). That’s 1000 x $500 million = $500 billion won, but you’ve spent a trillion ($1000 billion) to play. So you’ve wasted a lot of money in the long run. Even if the chances of winning are closer to the cost and win amount ratio, if the odds are lower than the cost and win amount ratio, then it’s generally a bad deal.

So traditional economics says not to play the lottery.

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James Altucher: A financial pundit who's worth watching

James Altucher is a crazy guy with a crazy blog who has some fairly offbeat ideas about all manner of stuff. He's also one of the most original talking heads in the financial talking heads business, as evinced by his appearances in a variety of media outlets. He seriously cuts against type. He still looks like the science-wonk he was as an undergrad and doesn't particularly mind functioning as mild comic relief, especially given that he's been around the money game for years and can talk the talk quite well.

Personally, I like it when he goes up against the rough-and-tumble panel on CNBC's "Fast Money," typically with positions so contrarian — and of late, so optimistic — that he seems to have the fellas on the point of cracking up with every prognostication. 

Currently, he's arguing that things are much better than they seem, economy-wise, in the U.S. To him, stocks look cheap and a meltdown in Europe would be no big deal. He may be right. But he also thinks Apple will see a trillion dollar market cap, something like three times its current level of about $360 billion.

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California and Nevada team up to make the housing crisis last forever

The Attorneys General of California and Nevada, Kamala Harris and Catherine Masto, have joined forces to pursue the banks that were involved in the foreclosure crisis to the ends of the earth. This is crusading stuff. But will it actually help? The LA Times sums it up:

The new alliance between Harris and Masto comes as the largest banks are working to strike a deal with a coalition of attorneys general and federal agencies that is led by Iowa Atty. Gen. Thomas Miller, who has forced the mortgage industry to accept large settlements in the past.

Masto has said the state would evaluate any proposed deal but would push ahead with her own work. New York, Delaware, Kentucky and Minnesota have signaled they are unhappy with the direction of the talks with the banks. New York and Delaware have struck their own agreement to pursue a wider probe of Wall Street's role in the mortgage meltdown.

The negotiations were expected to have produced a settlement of as much as $25 billion for the states, including a provision that would write down principal for troubled borrowers, a move long pushed for by housing advocates. But despite pressure from the Obama administration for a quick settlement that might give the beleaguered housing market a boost, those talks have dragged on for more than a year.

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