Explaining Southern California's economy

PHOTOS: A Visit to Idealab in Pasadena

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Matthew DeBord

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

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Matthew DeBord

Entrepreneurs in an innovation tank need aquatic life in an aquarium, for metaphorical reasons and to relieve startup stress.

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Matthew DeBord

Idealab is currently working with a number of companies in its innovative, open-space environment.

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Matthew DeBord

Idealab provides the services that startups require, including legal and HR.

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Matthew DeBord

If you're an entrepreneur, you're going to need financial advice, at some point. Maybe at every point.

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Matthew DeBord

It isn't just social media startups and tech companies. Idealab maintains a workshop for entrepreneurs who need to build stuff out of something other than bytes.

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Matthew DeBord

It never hurts to have an accessible rooftop, where you can prototype solar projects.

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Matthew DeBord

I'm Matt DeBord, your DeBord Report business and economics blogger from KPCC 89.3, and I approve of this visit to Idealab. More to come...


Today, I dropped by Idealab, the business incubator in Pasadena, to learn a bit more about the startup scene in Southern California. They were kind enough to show me around their unique space and briefly chat about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. 

Here's a timeline of the operation, which was founded in 1996 by Bill Gross and has moved through a number of iterations. They are to a certain extent building the future here, and that's always a good energy to be around. Idealab is also fostering new businessers and new technologies right here in SoCal, establishing an interesting alternative to the Bay Area (although certainly not acting as if NoCal doesn't exist). They're even beginning to explore so-called "angel" investing, with a new in-house ventures group.

Have a look around! And, if you want to get a sense of how entrepeneurship is affecting working life in Los Angeles during an economic downturn, check out KPCC's Shereen Marisol Meraji and her visit to NextSpace, a co-working business in Culver City.

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Euro Crisis: The French, they are a funny race (the Germans, too)

Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon and Marketplace New York bureau chief Heidi Moore went on "The Madeleine Brand Show" this morning to discuss the ongoing (Neverending?) European debt crisis. It was a lively discussion, moving beyond the probability of a Greek default in its debt and raising the specter of Italy defaulting on its debt — or more accurately, being unable to "roll it over," or pay off maturing bonds with new bonds, at the same interest rate. Unfortunately for Italy, its borrowing costs are going up, making it difficult to execute this maneuver.

At one point, Heidi made reference to a video of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the odd couple of the European Union, who together have been lurchingly trying to cobble together a rescue package for the Eurozone's common currency. 

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Rick Perry's Bizarro World tax plan

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Win McNamee/Getty Images

GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Perry

I honestly didn't think anyone could — or would — come up with a worse plan for U.S. tax reform than Herman Cain did with his 999 proposal. But Texas Gov. Rick Perry just released his "Cut, Balance and Grow" plan, which is also being referred to as the "20-20" plan, echoing Cain's 999. The difference is that Perry replaces Cain's 9 percent flat income and corporate taxes with a 20 percent flat tax for both. But there's more! And just in time for Halloween, it's...terrifying!

I'd like to call it stupid, but ridiculously stupid would be better.

The plan has four key pieces:

  1. Americans will be able to choose between the current tax system and the 20-percent flat tax. 
  2. Corporations will see their tax rate cut from an average of 35 percent under the current system to a flat 20 percent with Perry's plan.
  3. Federal spending would be capped at 18 percent of GDP, which Perry argues is the average since 1960. This will, he insists, balance the budget by 2020.
  4. Workers would be able to opt out of Social Security.

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Ronald Reagan: A man and his secret harmonica

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Marion Doss/Flickr

Ronald Reagan, an American legend

Ronald Reagan was a...harmonica player? I consider myself something of a student of Reaganalia, having enjoyed some formative years during the Gipper's reign. But Kitty Felde's story today about a Reagan exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., included a tidbit about the 40th President's rumored late-life adoption of the mouth harp as his instrument of choice. That got my attention!

Evidently, Reagan's harmonica playing was something that journalists discussed, but like a sort of musical state secret, could never properly confirm. This is from the UK Independent — in 1994:

Some say it was Bill Clinton's saxophone playing that got him going, others that he read Presidents Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Coolidge and Eisenhower played the harmonica so he felt he ought to.

Bemused friends claim a tutor visits twice a week and there have been suggestions that among the tunes the former actor has been working on are 'Git Along Little Doggie' and 'Streets of Laredo'.

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Can the Federal Reserve end the foreclosure crisis?

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

The Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC.

The economist Peter Morici, who has been extremely critical of the Obama adminstration's economic policies of late, has taken a look at the housing crisis and doesn't see much hope. He does see one way out, however. But it's an exceptionally unlikely way out:

Currently, the rate on five-year adjustable rate mortgages is about 3.2 percent. If the Fed could get the investors who buy Fannie and Freddie bonds to accept interest rates of minus 3 percent, then young folks could be offered mortgages with appropriately negative interest rates. To accomplish that feat, the Fed would have to buy all those bonds itself-that's right the Fed would finance all federally guaranteed mortgages and write off 3 percent a year. I can just hear Ron Paul now.

Morici makes this argument in the context of discussing why it makes little sense for young people to buy houses right now (unfortunately, I can't link to his piece, as it isn't on his website yet). He refers to Ron Paul, a Texas congressman and noted libertarian, because Paul is no fan of the Fed

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