Urban Development, the Growth Ponzi Scheme, and Strong Towns with Chuck Marohn

Today’s guest on Economics Detective Radio is Chuck Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns.

Strong Towns is a non-profit that seeks to reform America from the ground up, starting with its towns and cities. It aims to promote healthy local economies by improving local governance.

The Growth Ponzi Scheme

Chuck began recognizing the problems in America’s towns and cities when he was working as a civil engineer. He recounts a story of working in a little city in central Minnesota in the late 1990s. The city had a 300-foot pipe that had cracked, allowing ground water to leak in and overflow their treatment facility. Chuck proposed a $300,000 solution to fix the pipe. However, this was a tiny town with an annual budget of $85,000. So Chuck went to higher levels of government (the federal government, the USDA, etc.) to find someone to fund the project. They all said, “This feels like maintenance. We don’t have money for maintenance, so you need to pay for this yourself.” Since the feds would only fund expansion projects, Chuck devised a plan: He would propose the largest expansion project he could, then repair the pipe as part of the expansion. This wasn’t so much deviousness on his part as it was standard practice in his profession. He designed a couple miles of new pipe, doubled their treatment facility, and as part of that he included repairs for the old pipe. This new project cost $2.6 million. Continue reading Urban Development, the Growth Ponzi Scheme, and Strong Towns with Chuck Marohn

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Will Socialism be able to save Venezuela as Bernie Sanders felt it could save America?

I answered this question on Quora. My answer was “No.” But it was a very detailed no. Here’s an excerpt:

Chavez was a true, dyed-in-the-wool socialist. He passed many reforms that would have crippled another nation. For instance, he made it illegal for private employers to fire anyone. Hiring an employee in Venezuela means paying that person a living wage until he quits or retires, regardless of whether he does any work or not. Imagine trying to run a business under that constraint! Chavez expanded state control of the economy in the name of socialism, but the country didn’t fall into chaos. As late as 2013, David Sirota was declaring it an “economic miracle.” This might seem like a win for socialist economics, but the truth is more dull than that.

Continue reading Will Socialism be able to save Venezuela as Bernie Sanders felt it could save America?

Population Growth, the Ethics of Having Children, and Climate Change with Steve Horwitz

Today’s guest is Steve Horwitz, he is the Charles A. Dana Professor and Chair of the economics department at St. Lawrence University.

Steve recently wrote an article titled, “Make Babies, and Don’t Let the Greens Guilt Trip You about It.” This was a response to an argument made by the bioethicist Travis Rieder, who was recently profiled by NPR. Rieder argues that it is immoral to have children because of the burden additional humans place on the Earth, in particular because of the risk of catastrophic climate change. Here’s how that NPR piece put his argument:

“Back at James Madison University, Travis Rieder explains a PowerPoint graph that seems to offer hope. Bringing down global fertility by just half a child per woman ‘could be the thing that saves us,’ he says. He cites a study from 2010 that looked at the impact of demographic change on global carbon emissions. It found that slowing population growth could eliminate one-fifth to one-quarter of all the carbon emissions that need to be cut by midcentury to avoid that potentially catastrophic tipping point.”

The problem with this sort of reasoning is that it views human beings as consumers and not as producers and innovators. Humans are able to contribute to the division of labour and to come up with ideas. That division of labour allows everyone to become more productive. Continue reading Population Growth, the Ethics of Having Children, and Climate Change with Steve Horwitz

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Marx, his Errors, and his Continuing Influence with Phil Magness

This week’s episode of Economics Detective Radio deals with the economic thought and continuing popularity of Marx. No, not Groucho! The other Marx!

My guest on the podcast is Phil Magness, a historian who teaches at George Mason University. Phil recently wrote a piece entitled, “Commie Chic and Quantifying Marx on the Syllabus.” Recently, the Open Syllabus Project released a data set including thousands of college syllabi. To many people’s surprise, Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto enjoys massive popularity! Continue reading Marx, his Errors, and his Continuing Influence with Phil Magness

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Trailer Parks, Zoning, and Market Urbanism with Nolan Gray

Today’s guest on Economics Detective Radio is Nolan Gray. Nolan is a writer for Market Urbanism and the host of the recently launched Market Urbanism Podcast.

Market urbanism is the synthesis of classical liberal economics and an appreciation for urban life. Market urbanists are interested in economic issues specific to cities, such as housing affordability and urban transportation.

Nolan wrote an article titled “Reclaiming ‘Redneck’ Urbanism: What Urban Planners Can Learn From Trailer Parks.” As Nolan points out, trailer parks are remarkable in that they achieve very high densities with just one- and two-story construction. They do so while providing remarkably low rents of between $300 and $500, or $700 to $1,100 per month to live in brand new manufactured homes. They are also interesting in that the park managers provide a form of private governance to their tenants. Continue reading Trailer Parks, Zoning, and Market Urbanism with Nolan Gray

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Venezuela, El Caracazo, and Chavism with Francisco Toro

Today’s guest is Francisco Toro, he is the blog editor at The Caracas Chronicles, a group blog about Venezuela.

Venezuela has all the markings of a paradise. It has a lush, tropical climate and access to vast oil reserves. And yet, the Venezuelan government has run the country into the ground. As of now, all but the wealthiest Venezuelans struggle to eat. What went wrong?

It might surprise you, given Venezuela’s current state, that the country was for many years a model Latin American country. Before 1989, Venezuela had a stable, two-party democracy. Its economy functioned when the price of oil was high, and it was free of much of the violence that plagued other Latin American nations. That changed in 1989 with an event known as El Caracazo. Continue reading Venezuela, El Caracazo, and Chavism with Francisco Toro

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Against Fossil Fuel Divestment with Pierre Desrochers

Pierre Desrochers returns to the podcast to discuss the fossil fuel divestment movement in higher education. He recently co-authored a paper titled “Blowing Hot Air on the Wrong Target? A Critique of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement in Higher Education” with Hiroko Shimizu. Continue reading Against Fossil Fuel Divestment with Pierre Desrochers

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Garrett M. Petersen's blog about markets, institutions, and ideas.