Sept. 24, 2016
Governments, which often offer their workers DB pensions, have been far slower than the corporate sector in attempting to reduce the cost. In large part this is because of the way they account for pensions. In America they are allowed to assume a return of 7.5-8% on their investments, making deficits look a lot smaller. But generous accounting assumptions do not make the problem go away. The Centre for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College has looked at around 4,000 American state and local-government pension plans. Even using the accounting standards permitted, the plans were on average 72% funded at the end of 2015. On a more conservative 4% discount rate, this drops to 45%. On the former basis, the collective deficit is $1.2 trillion; on the latter $4.1 trillion.
July 25, 2015
Greed, profligacy, tiny companies with outlandish valuations: it is not hard to detect echoes of the turn of the century, when the dotcom bubble burst spectacularly and America’s economy stumbled as a result. But to see history as about to repeat itself is to miss how deeply things have changed. Today’s technology businesses are selling services and products from which they already generate income, rather than just saying that one day they might. And the group of people doing the investing is much smaller now than it was then. The risks are on fewer shoulders.
July 24, 2015
The enormous, disruptive creativity of Silicon Valley is unlike anything since the genius of the great 19th-century inventors. Its triumph is to be celebrated. But the accumulation of so much wealth so fast comes with risks. The 1990s saw a financial bubble that ended in a spectacular bust. This time the danger is insularity. The geeks live in a bubble that seals off their empire from the world they are doing so much to change.
March 14, 2015
Paradoxically, perhaps the city’s biggest strength is its sprawl. Unlike most other big cities in America, Houston has no zoning code, so it is quick to respond to demand for housing and office space. Last year authorities in the Houston metropolitan area, with a population of 6.2m, issued permits to build 64,000 homes. The entire state of California, with a population of 39m, issued just 83,000. Houston’s reliance on the car and air-conditioning is environmentally destructive and unattractive to well-off singletons. But for families on moderate incomes, it is a place to live well cheaply.
Jan. 31, 2015
Meanwhile, frustrated exporters and importers will find other routes. In a recent survey by the Journal of Commerce, 60% of shippers said they had begun redirecting cargoes away from America’s West Coast ports. Once that business leaves, it may never return. Western ports have already lost market share to the East Coast since 2002, when failed labour talks led to an 11-day lockout and a total shutdown.