Saturday, April 24, 2010


China’s railway boom.

This quickie Economist article on Portland is interesting, but I disagree with this section:
Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles-based demographer and author, thinks that places like Portland, San Francisco and Boston have become “elite cities”, attractive to the young and single, especially those with trust funds, but beyond the reach of middle-class families who want a house with a lawn. Indeed Portland, for all its history of Western grit, is remarkably white, young and childless. Most Americans will therefore continue to migrate to the more affordable “cities of aspiration” such as Houston, Atlanta or Phoenix, thinks Mr Kotkin. As they do so, they may turn decentralised sprawl into quilts of energetic suburbs with a community feeling.
They may, but they may not. There’s no reason only Portland, SF, Boston, NYC, DC, Chicago have to be the big densely-built cities—as the article reveals, the density is the result of choices with deliberate or accidental consequences. Politically, large swathes of the country have chosen to mandate sprawl, but there’s no reason to believe that this is the preference of all or most Americans: indeed, the expensiveness of real estate in these areas likely reflects the demand for living there, demand that could be rerouted into other densely-built cities.

This special report on innovation in emerging markets is really quite good. I’ll have more commentary in a separate post.

When discussing globalization and immigration and job creation in the very recent past (and, for that matter, still in the present), we have usually spoken in terms like "brain gain" and "brain drain," implying a zero-sum contest between countries and regions. Ben's book makes quite clear that we are moving into a world of brain circulation, wherein people circulate among countries and institutions, starting companies, creating jobs, propagating innovations--adding to the economies of many countries at once.

From Bill Gates, this:
… our country is neglecting a field central to our national prospect and security: energy. Although the information technology and pharmaceutical industries spend 5 to 15 percent of their revenue on research and development each year, U.S. companies' spending on energy R&D has averaged only about one-quarter of 1 percent of revenue over the past 15 years.

And despite talk about the need for "21st-century" energy sources, federal spending on clean energy research -- less than $3 billion -- is also relatively small. Compare that with roughly $30 billion that the U.S. government annually spends on health research and $80 billion on defense research and development.

An anthropological investigation of New York’s book stalls.

The country of Guinea-Bissau has been attracting quite a bit of attention recently in magazines: I posted this article from the New York Times Magazine a while back, and I just noticed this article from the Virginia Quarterly Review.

More book reviews: Alan Brinkley reviews The Bridge and the Guardian posts an excerpt of the book.

The New York Times writes a very good examination of a charter school company, Imagine Schools. Looks very sketchy.

The Wall Street Journal has a mostly ho-hum article on derivatives regulation but includes this tidbit: “The Lincoln measure would beef up oversight and increase transparency of the market, and includes a proposal that could push Wall Street banks to spin off their derivatives trading operations.” The Dodd bill, we’re told, won’t include such a provision. To which I say, huh? I haven’t heard of that before. Mind you, in legislation of this scope and complexity, it’s possible we haven’t heard of this previously, but derivatives reform has been well-scrutinized up to this point. Is this true or is the WSJ just bullshitting us?

The more households are leveraged, the harder the fall in the recession. The graph posted in the article is very interesting, because it appears that the majority of the increase in debt is due to increase in mortgage debt…which is interesting, no? I’d be interested to see the breakdown in mortgage debt: how much was new mortgages, how much was second mortgages, how much was home equity lines of credit, etc., so that we’d know how much houses financed additional consumption.

Tech firms are taking a higher percentage of H-1B visas. The real story here is that it’s capped at 60,000 visas/year.

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