- Construction workers put the spire on top of One World Trade Center this week. It's still a couple of years from completion and occupation, but the spire is a metaphorical landmark for the recovery from 9/11. But here's a question: How many of the the occupants of the new World Trade Center will be involved in actual trade -- that is, the exchange of goods and services? It's worth asking because this giant tower -- the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere -- is about half-leased, according to the Wall Street Journal: one-third to Conde Nast (the publishing house), as well as the Federal government and a Chinese real-estate firm. But if it turns out anything like the original WTC, the tenants will largely be financial-related firms. Is that truly trade? Nobody really cares from a "truth in advertising" standpoint, but it's symbolic of what we value most: "Real" trade in goods and services, or the not-so-"real" financial sector.
- When will Highway 20 be four lanes wide across Iowa? A state official says, "Since IDOT doesn't plan for more than five years at a time, pinpointing a completion date isn't possible". And yet some businesses operate on 100-year business plans. That's how you win the future. And we really need some of our public institutions to start thinking about the long-term future -- deeply. One of the possible scenarios detailed in an assessment of the next 20 years in the Pacific, as changes come to America, China, and Japan, carries the brutal description, "Broke and demoralized, America retreats from the Pacific".. The leading conclusion of the Carnegie Endowment report is that the status quo can't go on. And the evidence supporting that conclusion is clear: Publicly-traded companies in China are experiencing shrinking profits, and there's no escaping the demographic realities wrought by China's one-child policy. But the United States has to make the choice to grow (and to deliberately put policies in place to create the environment for growth), or else a slow-growth economy will choke out defense spending while cutting options for other things we want and need.
- Unwinding "quantitative easing" will be the greatest trick a Fed chief will see in a generation or more. We may have sidestepped a dramatic economic catastrophe, but we'll have to take off the Band-Aid someday, and that won't be pretty. We're in a weird universe, where productivity growth doesn't seem to be showing benefits from computers and smartphones. Either something is wrong with the data (and/or how it's being collected), or we're blowing off some of the obvious benefits that everyone can see with their own two eyes by wasting time on Angry Birds. Or something. It may also be one of those insoluble paradoxes of trying to account for what we produce without a real measurement of our overall well-being.
- "Mad Money" Billionaires...and other clubs that don't exist. In the long run, great wealth is possible for most people. But it requires patience, judgment, and discipline: Most of all, the discipline to resist the urge to be doing something at all times. Shows like "Mad Money" encourage furious activity and a hot-headed impatience. That's exactly the wrong thing for investors.
- A hidden threat in Europe: High unemployment among young people. It's partly the result of bad government policy. And the effects will linger for a long time to come. We have to be deeply wary of that prospect here -- and alert to very high youth unemployment here. The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds is declining again, but it hit nearly 19% during the recession. That's damaging.