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

Why Did the Streetcar Disappear?

imageA few weeks ago I penned what I considered a clever narrative about the rise of the automobile to the point of our present-day near complete dependence upon it. In that post, I made the assumption that the automobile earned its preferred status by out-competing all other modes of transportation in the hearts and minds of the American people and our policymakers. Well today I take up my (virtual) pen once again to tell you that in making this seemingly safe assumption, I mistakenly left out of this narrative a chapter of our public transportation history so dripping with drama and intrigue that when I found out about it this past week I could hardly sleep soundly at night. It is the story of the humble electric streetcar (also known as the trolley, tram, or urban rail), the undisputed king of public transportation in the early part of the twentieth century. Continue reading

1940s America – The Start of Small Town Decline?

imageAll across the country, small towns are suffering. Once the heart of the American experience, these places have been losing their populations to larger urban and metropolitan centers for the past several decades. I never consciously chose to be a part of this great migration, but as it turns out I find myself as a case-in-point. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and I did well in school which meant opportunities to go away to college. Specialized degrees led to specialized jobs located in larger metropolitan areas, until following the natural path of this economy landed me in Austin, Texas, one of the fastest growing cities in the nation and a leading beneficiary of the small town-to-big-city movement. Continue reading

A Place Worth Coming Home To

imageIn my last post I made the argument that in order to build a legacy, LeBron James needed to root himself deeply in community, to become as closely associated with Cleveland as Michael Jordan was with Chicago. Cleveland is LeBron’s home, and I think most of us were thrilled to hear that he will be returning this coming year. He explained his decision by reflecting on his deep ties to Northeast Ohio – ties so strong that four successful years with the Miami Heat weren’t enough to make him forget. LeBron is coming home.

LeBron’s story is a great example of the kind of migration that hometowns across the nation are experiencing. Continue reading