The Birth of the Modern Shark Tank Economy

imagePaula and I are both readers. Except in the case of a movie night or some other exceptions the TV doesn’t get a lot of play time in the Golbabai house. One of those exceptions however is our favorite Friday night tradition: putting the kids to bed and watching Shark Tank over a bowl of ice cream. As an economics blogger, I find the show fascinating because in just a few short minutes it is a perfect microcosm of how our modern economy thinks and rewards. Continue reading

More Than Employees: What Killed Our Local Economic Independence?

P1000702Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been following with a kind of morbid fascination our American presidential race. Of particular interest to me is not so much where our two parties disagree, however, but where they in fact agree. Both parties openly acknowledge that the economy is not working as it should for everyone, and both parties have the same prescription: jobs – i.e. better employment options.  On the surface, this sounds great for those of us trying to climb our own respective career ladders or for those trying to get on a career ladder in the first place. And this of course must be a winning theme, because it seems to be the primary domestic issue in every presidential election I can remember. But honestly, this mindset just doesn’t sit right with me, and not just because of the influences of Wendell Berry and Planet Money, but because of our past. Looking back at American history, the concept of economic success as our ability to be employed by others is a fairly recent phenomenon. We were once a nation of small business owners, each of us creating a unique American Dream of our own with self-employment as the cornerstone. Today we’re a nation of employees looking for jobs that provide upward mobility. So what happened? Continue reading

The Local and the Global: Lessons from Detroit

imageIn The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle articulates three types of friendship: friendship based on utility, friendship based on pleasure, and perfect friendship based on goodness. When it comes to the relationship between multi-national corporations and local places within the context of the global economy, I cannot help but think Aristotle’s description of friendship based on utility hits it on the head. Continue reading

Treasuring Places of Character

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One of my greatest joys over the last two plus years has been watching my son grow up. On the cusp of moving from toddler to little boy, I increasingly see the all-important role Paula and I have in shaping his character (enter, “timeout”). But environment has an impact too, and one of the best places for him to exercise his character is on the playground. Here, there are opportunities to take on new challenges such as scaling the ladder and trying out the big slide, to utilize his creativity in the sandbox, to learn how to interact with both the bigger and smaller kids alike. But as we explore playgrounds around Austin, we notice they’re not all equal. Continue reading

Local Land Ownership and the American Dream

imageThree years ago Paula and I became first time homeowners and landlords when we purchased our central Austin duplex. Despite all the paperwork (I never knew I could sign my name so many times), it was all pretty thrilling. But looking back at it now, I can see more clearly than ever that this process, more than anything else we have done so far, helped us better secure our financial footing by giving us the ability to make payments as if we were renting, but build equity in the process. And of course, it gave us a sense of ownership and control over our own little piece of the American Dream. Continue reading

Our Repair Economy: Are Low Prices the Enemy of Sustainability?

imageI was preparing for work one morning when disaster struck; my trusty beard trimmer wasn’t trimming. There was plenty of strange whirring but absolutely no movement of the blades. I spent a few minutes tinkering with it but to no avail. At this point, what are my options? It seemed to me that the problem was fixable. I have a two-year-old son who is fascinated with shaving; maybe he got a hold of it and dropped it, knocking something loose. If I couldn’t fix it myself, could a repair shop handle it? What would they charge me? How would that compare with the cost of a brand new beard trimmer? But maybe the biggest question was this: do repair shops for small electronics even exist any more? Continue reading

Building a Local Economy: Where to Start?

P1000350Quite a lot has happened in the Golbabai house since I lased posted. After months of studying, I passed my American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification exam so I can now write this blog as a certified planner! A few days later, Paula and I welcomed the newest addition to our family, our beautiful baby daughter. Both Mom and baby are doing well and we’re all adjusting to this new reality of life as a family of four!

Over the past few weeks I’ve been really struck by my two children. Looking at our newborn daughter, I’m amazed at just how completely dependent we are on others when we come into the world. Continue reading

A Temporary Leave of Absense

As many of you know, one of my  favorite things to discuss on this blog is the intersection of the fields of urban planning and economic development, particularly as it relates to building strong local economies. This coming November, I have an exciting opportunity to prove my mettle in these areas by taking the American Planning Association’s American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) exam. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the realization that the best time I have to prepare for this exam is the same one I use to research and write for this blog. Continue reading

Fighting the Local Curse of Bigness: A Case for Store Size Caps

imageWhat I loved about Northwest Hardware in Austin, Texas was the phenomenal customer service. Every time I went in, someone would talk to me in detail about my project or problem and steer me in the right direction, even if their solution was less expensive than what I was originally thinking. Sadly, we stopped by a few weeks ago only to discover that it had recently closed.  The loss felt strangely close to me. After all, as a consumer I’d like to be able to shop with my values of supporting small and independent businesses that anchor the local community. Yet with the disappearance of stores that provide this option, I find myself pushed into a handful of large, consolidated big box options that lack the intimacy of a community shopping experience. Continue reading

Redefining Success in Our Economy

imageBy all accounts the famed basketball coach John Wooden is one of the most successful in the history of the game. He boasts an all-time winning percentage of over .800 (620-147), and won an incredible 10 national championships over a twelve year period (from 1963-1975), which included four perfect seasons (1964, 1967, 1972, and 1973) and an 88 game winning streak. Despite all his victories however, a deeper look into Coach Wooden’s philosophy reveals that winning was something he actually never talked about, as he did not believe that success should be judged by comparison with anyone else. Continue reading