Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summers wrong?

I don't want to doubt Larry Summers but this statement seems wrong: “The rebuilt American economy must be more export-oriented and less consumption-oriented.” I would think that it is more important to have productive (whether services or manufacturing, but, in either case, with true efficiency improvements or creation of lasting value) industries and fewer rent-seeking or "skimming" (brokerage fees and similar) activities. Maybe export-oriented is a byproduct of moving to more productive industries (can't find foreign buyers for rent-seeking activities, for example), but why not state the true goal rather than the symptom or upshot. Separately, to get to this more productive economy, I think we will need to emphasize education and training in a wholly new and more serious way than we do now.

The great (but one time) unlocking

How much of US economic growth over the past few decades has been from one-time unlocking of previously frozen assets? I'm thinking home equity loans, unsecured borrowing, etc. And how much of Wall Street's income has been from finding this untrapped value and monetizing it? If we are largely unlocked (and we seem to be - we've borrowed against every asset I can think of, including future personal income all the way from the federal level to the personal by federal debt through credit cards), then growth from spending and growth from financial services income would seem to be over. Yikes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

street grids

Infrastructure seems to have some role to play in the success of cities (a less macro version of guns, germs and steel), and so I wonder if a grid pattern close to an ideal for city streets? After returning to New York and seeing how traffic generally moves, even when the streets are apparently full, I wonder if the combination of multiple paths moving in the same direction with smallish streets and smallish blocks is actually quite efficient where there is no pricing or limited access.

A grid would be somewhat self-balancing (as a street backs up, traffic naturally diverts to parallel streets if there are "block-the-box" rules, have some redundancy (with no absolute bottlenecks, no one point locks up the system or cuts off an area), and deliver some information (although not information rich, a quick glance at a street suggests is somewhat predictive of local and even less local traffic - in part because of the self-balancing aspects).

And this is most interesting as it isn't clear that the road designers were worried about traffic.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is it clear something went wrong?

The leader in the Economist this week is "What Went Wrong With Economics". The alliteration notwithstanding, is it really clear that something went wrong? I thought there were many calls for pricking the asset bubble over the prior years (including from the Economist). Also, doesn't standard economic theory predict that where incentives are not properly designed (for example, mortgage originators are seeking one-time initial fees rather than a reliable stream of income payments; bond raters are paid by the issuer rather than the purchaser; etc.) that you will have poor results?