Economic history is filled with bouts of financial euphoria followed by painful mornings after. When nations awake saddled with debts incurred to finance wars, episodes of failed speculation, or grand projects that haven't paid off, they have two choices. Either the creditor class prevails at the expense of everyone else, or governments find ways to reduce the debt burden so that the productive power of the economy can recover.
Creditors -- the rentier class in classic usage -- are usually the wealthy and the powerful. Debtors, almost by definition, have scant resources or power. The "money issue" of 19th-century America, about whether credit would be cheap or dear, was also a battle between growth and austerity.
A curse has befallen Los Angeles. Two of its leading civic institutions -- and for Angelinos of my generation, perhaps its two greatest institutions -- were sold to men so venal, cynical, incompetent, and egomaniacal that they gutted them in just a couple of years. Now, higher authorities have stepped in to stop their further destruction, at least temporarily.
I refer, of course, to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Times. The Dodgers were already a storied franchise when Walter O'Malley moved them from Brooklyn in 1958. The Times had been the city's dominant paper since the early years of the 20th century, but only in 1960, when Otis Chandler became publisher, did it begin its rise to become one of the nation's greatest newspapers.
Google co-founders Sergey Brin, left, and Larry Page (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
In his new book, IN THE PLEX: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, technology reporter and Hackers author Steven Levy provides an inside look at the company that has irreversibly transformed the World Wide Web and the way we obtain and perceive information.
Levy takes his readers inside the Googleplex, Google's Silicon Valley headquarters, to reveal what drives -- as well as sets back -- the company whose name has worked its way into the Oxford English Dictionary as a transitive verb. From Google's future plans to previously inaccessible details about Chinese Web censorship, Levy dishes out the inside scoop for the first time, as told by the top guns of the company, including its legendary co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Last week, the gay-rights group Truth Wins Out celebrated Apple's decision to pull from its store an app by Exodus International, perhaps the best-known "ex-gay" organization in the world. The app, a near mirror of Exodus' website -- including its podcasts, FAQs, blog posts, and news updates -- was removed after a petition circulated on Change.org collected more than 150,000 signatures. "The message Apple is sending here is clear: there is no place for 'ex-gay therapy' on the Apple platform," said a Change.org editor.
But there was another message that also came across: It's Apple's job to police who can see what online.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
In 2007, Antonio Jackson, an African American worker at the Rent-a-Center store in Washoe County, Nevada, concluded that he had been repeatedly denied promotion to sales manager because of his race. He complained to his store manager, the corporate office, and the human-resource department, all to no avail. Instead he was suspended, then transferred to a less desirable location, and ultimately fired. Jackson sued for race discrimination, only to be told by his employer that he had forfeited his rights to appeal his case when he took the job.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, whose name has been floated for a possible post in the Obama administration (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
I find it difficult to get worked up about debates over whom the president should pick to succeed Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff or Lawrence Summers as head of the National Economic Council (NEC). These are important jobs, but they're fundamentally staff jobs whose occupants work for the president and have little to no autonomous decision-making authority. Under the circumstances, Barack Obama should pick people he likes, and the only real mystery is what's taking so long.
Statue of Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the Treasury, in front of U.S. Treasury building. (Flickr/winged photography)
"The apportionment of taxes," wrote James Madison in Federalist No. 10, "is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets."
Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for California governor, speaks in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
"U.S. businessmen," lamentedTime magazine in August 1956, "whether Democrats or Republicans, have a deep-seated aversion to political activity." These days, however, every election brings a new spate of CEO candidates, arguing that their know-how in the ways of commerce makes them far better suited for government service than people who actually have some experience at government service.
Congressional Oversight Panel Chairwoman Elizabeth Warren asks a question of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The financial crisis has led to an accountability moment for our economic system. But the most disappointing -- if unsurprising -- realization in what ought to be an era of reform is that so few experts from the world of Wall Street and commerce have stepped forward to offer a transformative vision of the new economy. On the left, brilliant economists and advocates abound, but it is harder to find practitioners whose reforms are inspired by hard-won experience.
"Any idiot can nationalize a company," the great American socialist Michael Harrington used to say, disparagingly. For socialists of Harrington's generation and thereafter -- the socialists and social democrats who have governed most of Western Europe off and on for the past 30 years -- nationalizing companies hasn't really been part of their playbook. To be sure, they long since nationalized a range of services -- most prominently, health insurance -- that remain in private hands in the United States. But taking over major companies? Ever since Francois Mitterrand pulled back from nationalizing major French concerns in the early 1980s, it simply hasn't been done.
The first African American chief administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, gave her first public address in late January at the Advancing Climate Justice conference, an assembly of environmental-justice organizations from around the nation. Jackson had just been confirmed by the Senate in a hearing stalled in no small part by Sen. James Inhofe's insistence that she consider the opinions of those who deny that climate change has anthropogenic causes.
As I read coverage of the unpublished 513-page account of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq, a wave of sad recognition washed over me. The narrative thread of how a $100 billion effort to "save" Iraq became a giant save-your-own-ass bureaucracy was one that I had seen repeatedly in the news recently. A depressingly familiar story.
President-elect Obama's appointment of Mary Schapiro to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission does not augur well for Obama's commitment to get at the roots of the financial crisis. Schapiro, who heads one of our broken financial system's main institutions of self-regulation, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is known as a technically competent and politically moderate regulator who does not make waves. She served on the SEC beginning in 1988, having first been appointed by President Reagan.