Free knowledge

No, I’m not talking about my blogs. Rather, you, too, can download Dean Baker’s latest book, The End of Lower Liberals: Making Markets Progressive. No charge.

Even if you don’t agree with his prescriptions, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, Baker provides a concise, easy-to-read summary of how we got into our current mess and who’s to blame. It’s not The Rest of Us, by the way.

Paul Krugman told me to read this

So I did, and glad of it; although I’m not feeling any better. What I read, here, a column by Martin Wolf of the Financial Times. He writes, and Krugman has the same quote:

Mr Obama wishes to be president of a country that does not exist. In his fantasy US, politicians bury differences in bipartisan harmony. In fact, he faces an opposition that would prefer their country to fail than their president to succeed.

Such an indictment—of both Obama and the GOP. But how true.

Wolf provides a quick synopsis of how we got into the mess, emphasizes that we’re not in a recovery, and recommends “bold” policies. He’ll share his ideas in a followup column. Stay tuned.

My neighbor Steve Jobs

Okay, not my neighbor, but Lisen Stromberg’s. A very nice, personal note on Steve Jobs, a friendly family man. She writes:

From then on, when I saw him holding his executive meetings in our neighborhood, I didn’t hesitate to smile and say hi. Steve always returned the favor, proving he may be a genius, but he is also a good neighbor.

In time, things changed. The walks were less frequent, the gait slower, the smile not so ready. Earlier this year, when I saw Steve and his wife walking down our street holding hands, I knew something was different. Now, so does the rest of the world.

While Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal and CNET continue to drone on about the impact of the Steve Jobs era, I won’t be pondering the MacBook Air I write on or the iPhone I talk on. I will think of the day I saw him at his son’s high school graduation. There Steve stood, tears streaming down his cheeks, his smile wide and proud, as his son received his diploma and walked on into his own bright future, leaving behind a good man and a good father who can be sure of the rightness of this, perhaps his most important legacy of all.

I do have a nagging curiosity. Steve is a very wealthy guy. How much are reporters being paid these days?

Skin in the game

A very rich stockbroker, let’s say one who was bailed out by Washington, happens upon a homeless man begging for whatever. The rich man says, “You, too, should have some skin in the game. So give me a dollar that I can send to the IRS.”

Well, it’s almost that bad. The New York Times‘ editors weigh in. They write:

Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game.”

This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010.

Don’t you just love America?

Drive til you qualify

Did you know the highest foreclosure rates coincide with car ownership? Snohomish County, whose growth industry has been housing developments, reigns supreme in the metropolitan region.

Well, we shouldn’t really be surprised by this. The whole of the county, even here in downtown Everett where I live, is remarkable for its extremely low population densities. Everyone, then, needs a car. And those cars emerge from garages or alleys each morning to join the commuting goo that clogs I-5.

Mark Hinshaw, who used to be the architectural critic for the Seattle Times, has a piece in Crosscut. He writes:

Up in Snohomish County, a far more insidious and damaging series of events was unfolding. Dozens of developers — from bonafide to bottom-feeders — were beating down the doors of the county administration building to demand more and faster permits to clear the landscape and build single family houses. It was a home buying mania.

The County Council obliged—big time—by relaxing regulations, streamlining the permitting process, and creating a whopper of an oxymoron: “rural cluster subdivisions.” As Hinshaw tells it,

The eager builders managed to persuade Snohomish County to adopt laws that allowed wholesale removal of trees, clearing of land, and rapid approvals. Standard development practices that had been used to good effect in other Western Washington cities for years were rebuffed. Since then, county standards have been beefed up, but too late to head off the most recent wave of havoc on the landscape.

It’s been said that pavement lasts forever. Once the farms and trees were demolished to make way for American dreams, they’re gone—never to return? And what’s to become of the suburbs? Hinshaw:

One long-standing observer of the American development industry, Christopher Leinberger, wrote a provocative piece in the Atlantic last year entitled “The Next Slum,” about the end of suburbs as we know them.. Leinberger predicted that in the coming decades there will be fewer and fewer buyers wanting the American dream so popular over the past 50 years. Most younger people are instead preferring cities or close-in suburbs for their higher paying jobs, choices in culture, and a more diverse social setting — often within walking distance.

I say let’s raze the suburbs, encourage farms, and grow some trees. Meanwhile, introduce developers and builders to the wonders of well-designed, high-density, mixed-use, and sustainable urban development. Oh, and just forget all about that silly American Dream. It was bogus to begin with, and caused far more harm than good.

Drive less. Walk more. Pass it on.

By all means, let’s lower your taxes

Americans are the least taxed people in the western industrial world. Yet all we hear from one political party is that taxes are too high, so high that businesses just can’t create the jobs we’re craving.

Comes now this report from the Institute for Policy Studies. The conclusion: several large corporations pay their chief executives more than they give to Uncle Sam; and last time I checked, the U.S. could use some more revenues. The New York Times covers the story here.