Bear Market

Forget The Twist, Here Comes Operation Torque: Presenting Morgan Stanley’s Complete Moral Hazard Profit Guide

August 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“Bottom line: Goldman, JP Morgan, Nomura and now Morgan Stanley all assume QE3 is a fait accompli, the only question is what shape it will take. And for all intents and purposes, what the Fed will achieve, is to get investors to rush out of anything with a sub 10 Year duration, and into the longest point on the curve. And just like last time, the biggest beneficiaries will be not bonds, nor stocks, but commodities, where the marginal purchasing power is far greater, and the result will be yet another round of geopolitical shocks”

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Home Loan ‘Predators’ Were In Congress

August 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“Wrapping up a multicity tour of urban areas hit hardest by subprime foreclosures, the Congressional Black Caucus blames “racism” and “predatory lending” practices. But the caucus itself played a role in the financial ruin”

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New York neighbourhood fights against eviction of great-grandmother, alleged victim of ‘predatory’ lender

August 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“Ward’s case highlights the fallout from the US housing crisis, which saw foreclosure rates soar and left thousands of homeowners in deep financial danger. The eviction blockade outside of Ward’s home on August 19 was the latest action on behalf of members of the community and housing advocates to keep the city marshal from displacing yet another alleged victim of predatory mortgage lending.”

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Shift focus to precious metals, says JP Morgan chief strategist

August 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“Longer-term inflation fears and a slowdown in the developed markets have boosted the attractiveness of precious metals, according to JP Morgan Asset Management’s chief markets strategist.”

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Justice’s New War Against Lenders

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“The Obama administration repeats mistakes of the past by intimidating banks into lending to minority borrowers at below-market rates in the name of combatting discrimination”

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Fix The Housing Market By Speeding Up Foreclosures

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Speed up foreclosures to fix the housing market?  How heartless is that?  Many, like Senator Merkley of Oregon, believe that the administration should do more to prevent foreclosures: WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday urging him to address the nation’s devastating foreclosure crisis as part of a new plan to create jobs. “We can and should adopt an aggressive strategy to reduce foreclosures nationally,” Merkley…

Read this item at Housing Doom…

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Shadow inventory Armageddon – Foreclosure timeline up to an average of 599 days with 798,000 mortgages having no payment made in over 1 year and no foreclosure process initiated. Shadow inventory grows to over 6,540,000 properties.

August 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The biggest problem facing the housing market is still the large amount of stubborn shadow inventory.  The fact that this figure remains elevated is a sign that the banking system after all these years and trillions of dollars in bailouts has yet to figure out a streamlined way to unload properties.  The Federal Reserve is […]

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Rick Perry’s Secret Plan to Save Blue States from the Red States

August 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich

Of all the nonsense Texas Governor Rick Perry spews about states’ rights and the tenth amendment, his dumbest is the notion that states should go it alone. “We’ve got a great Union,” he said at a Tea Party rally in Austin in April 2009. “There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”

The core of his message isn’t outright secession, though. It’s that the locus of governmental action ought to be at the state rather than the federal level. “It is essential to our liberty,” he writes in his book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, “that we be allowed to live as we see fit through the democratic process at the local and state level.”

Perry doesn’t like the Federal Reserve Board. He hates the Internal Revenue Service even more. Presumably if he had his way taxpayers would pay states rather than the federal government for all the services and transfer payments they get.

This might be a good deal for Texas. According to the most recent data from the Tax Foundation, the citizens of Texas receive only 94 cents from the federal government for every tax dollar they send to Washington.

But it would be a bad deal for most other red states. On average, citizens of states with strong Republican majorities get back more from the federal government than they pay in. Kentucky receives $1.51 from Washington for every dollar its citizens pay in federal taxes. Alabama gets back $1.66. Louisiana receives $1.78. Alaska, $1.84. Mississippi, $2.02. Arizona, $1.19. Idaho, $1.21. South Carolina, $1.35. Oklahoma, $1.36. Arkansas, $1.41. Montana, $1.47, Nebraska, $1.10. Wyoming, $1.11. Kansas, $1.12.

On the other hand, fiscal secession would be a boon to most blue states. The citizens of California – harder hit by the recession than most – receive from Washington only 78 cents for every tax dollar they send to Washington. New Yorkers get back only 79 cents on every tax dollar they send in. Massachusetts, 82 cents. Michigan, 92 cents. Oregon, 98 cents.

In other words, blue states are subsidizing red states. The federal government is like a giant sump pump – pulling dollars out of liberal enclaves like California, New York, Massachusetts, and Oregon  – and sending them to conservative places like Montana, Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Old South.

As a practical matter, then, Rick Perry’s fight to save America from Washington is really a secret plan to save blue states from red states.

Perry, it turns out, is a closet liberal.

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Day of the Doorknobs

August 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Daily Reckoning

–Before we get into how to turn Australia into post-war Germany with the soundest currency in the world and a healthy manufacturing sector, let us remind you that it’s Wednesday. That means you should go check out Murray’s latest Slipstream Trader market update on his YouTube channel. If you haven’t done so yet, you have no idea what you’re missing.

–Now, back to markets. Have you noticed that every time someone from the US Federal Reserve opens his mouth, he creates more instability? Unsound money leads to monetary instability. Monetary instability creates economic instability. And economic instability makes people really uncomfortable. And cranky.

–Yet the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Charles Evans, wants even more unsound money! Evans got on CNBC last night and told the world, “I would favour more accommodation…I am in favour of some of the most aggressive policy actions of anyone on the [Fed’s policy making] committee.”

–Just what “more accommodation” is intended to accomplish is unclear. More wealth destruction? About all that’s clear so far is that when you tell people you’re going to keep interest rates low for the next two-and-half years, they speculate. And when you tell them your intention is to effectively devalue your currency, they buy real money.

The Aussie gold price up 21.61% in 60 days

The Aussie gold price up 21.61% in 60 days

–December gold futures in the US gained 2% after Evans opened his big mouth. We suppose if you’re a gold bull, you don’t mind this sort of thing. But after a day or two of ceasefire, the global currency war is back on again with some feeling. Even Treasurer Wayne Swan is getting in on the act.

–Swan is on his way to China to talk over the terms of Australia’s gradual surrender of economic sovereignty to the Chinese over the next 50 years.

–Wait. Just kidding. He’s over there to talk business. But while he’s at it, he’s had an early go at China’s currency peg. He told reporters:

“Australia is a very strong believer in a floating currency and one of the structural reforms that we require in the global economy, particularly from large developing countries, is for them to boost domestic demand and move to more market-based exchange rates…That’s part of dealing with the global financial imbalances, the global financial imbalances that cause the global financial crisis and then the global recession.”

–He’s referring to some of the structural imbalances we wrote about yesterday. He’s especially referring to the strong Australian dollar. The same dollar that’s decimating the manufacturing industry. He must have read yesterday’s Daily Reckoning and saw what’s in store for an entire segment of the economy that can’t compete.

–Don’t expect any sympathy from Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens. He reckons that the strong dollar is here to stay and it’s going to cause unavoidable wreckage in some parts of the Australian economy. In public remarks, Stevens said:

“Some parts of the economy will shrink while others grow. I wish I could say we had a way of avoiding that; I don’t think we do . . . We don’t have an instrument that can prevent these shifts in the structure of the economy from occurring. I’m sorry but that is just the reality.”

–Ah. But is it true the decimation of Australian manufacturing is an inevitable result of the structural changes in the global economy? Maybe not. But to avoid said decimation, Australian regulators and politicians might have to put down their meddlesome policy tools and pick up a German history book.

–If they find such a book and turn to one specific date in German history, they’ll find a blueprint for how to make Australia more competitive and increase productivity. We’d also humbly suggest that fully employed people with sound money in their pockets are happier people. But we’ll get back to that in a second.

–In late June of 1948, US, French, and British troops discretely distributed over 23,000 wooden crates across Germany. The crates were labelled “doorknobs”. But there weren’t any doorknobs inside.

–Inside the crates were over 10.7 billion new currency units, or Deutschmarks. The Deutschmark replaced the Reichmark, which had been invalidated by the currency reform law passed by the Allied Powers. On Sunday, 20 June 1948, every German citizen received 40 new Deutschmarks. A month later they received 20 more.

dollar image


–Reichsmarks could be traded in for new D-marks at an exchange rate of 10-1. And when you first think about that, you realise that the issuing of a new currency had the effect of wiping out the savings of millions of Germans in one fell swoop. So why did this one key move become the foundation for Germany’s post-war economic recovery?

–The introduction of a new currency reduced the amount of money in circulation in Germany. It reintroduced sound money into the German economy by strictly limiting money supply growth. Sound money means monetary stability. And monetary stability makes normal economic activity and planning possible (and worthwhile) again.

–The new currency was encouraged by German economist, Ludwig Erhard. Erhard then went beyond what the Allied occupation authorities had in mind when, in one fell swoop, he removed price controls and rationing in the German economy. The effect was dramatic.

–Price controls virtually guarantee scarcity. Producers hold back goods and services because they are forced to sell them below their market value. The black market flourishes. Shelves are empty and barter replaces normal commerce.

–But with sound money back in the economy, and price controls gone from the economy, sellers and producers in Germany no longer hoarded goods and services. The shelves filled up. And the incentive to resume economic production returned quickly.

–It’s hard to imagine how complete the change must have been to Germans shuffling through the rubble of the post-war reconstruction. Frenchman, Jacques Rueff – who later famously pointed out the “exorbitant privilege” the US enjoys issuing debts in the same currency it prints – captured the effect of the currency reform on German society:

“The black market suddenly disappeared. Shop windows were full of goods; factory chimneys were smoking; and the streets swarmed with lorries. Everywhere the noise of new buildings going up replaced the deathly silence of the ruins. If the state of recovery was a surprise, its swiftness was even more so. In all sectors of economic life it began as the clocks struck on the day of currency reform. Only an eye-witness can give an account of the sudden effect which currency reform had on the size of stocks and the wealth of goods on display. Shops filled up with goods from one day to the next; the factories began to work. On the eve of currency reform the Germans were aimlessly wandering about their towns in search of a few additional items of food. A day later they thought of nothing but producing them. One day apathy was mirrored on their faces while on the next a whole nation looked hopefully into the future.”

Sound money creates the incentives for production. Erhard ended money printing. He understood all too clearly that accommodative monetary policy doesn’t create wealth. It prolongs instability. But he did not stop there.

–He dismissed most of the public service in Bavaria and said his goal was to replace a bureaucratic culture with an entrepreneurial culture. He also gave people an incentive to work. He abolished taxation on all income tax on hours worked over 40 hours.

–Exporters paid fewer taxes on profits. The top rate of Germany’s so-called progressive income tax was lowered from 80% in 1948 to 55% by 1950. Productive industries were given tax deductions for capital investment. And high depreciation allowances were introduced for almost all capital investment.

–Now, we’re certain that the progressive collectivist socialist types will howl at the last suggestions. Higher depreciation allowances effectively allow a business to lower its tax liability. Instead of writing off the cost of a capital asset over 10 years, gradually, you do it quickly and subtract it from your tax bill. That lowers government tax takings.

–Assuming you’ve fired a good deal of the bureaucracy, this shouldn’t be a problem. The government’s bills will be lower. It will get out of the way of the entrepreneur and do what it ought to do in the first place: ensure the conditions for a stable legal and monetary environment (although even this role is debatable).

–The big benefit to allowing faster depreciation is that you encourage capital investment by “de-risking” it. Businesses are much more likely to invest in capital goods if they can expense them quickly and turn a profit sooner. That profit is ploughed back into new investment, higher wages, and greater production.

–There are two reasons Australia will never encourage flat taxes, sound money, and accelerated depreciation of capital assets. The first is that it doesn’t benefit the financial and banking industries. We have a money system and an economic system that directs all the benefits of unsound money to a very small group of money shufflers at the top.

–Bankers get to create money at no cost and loan it out for interest. They also get first use of the money, before the expansion of the money supply decreases purchasing power and erodes savings through inflation. They have no interest in a structural change to the financial system that encourages capital investment; the kind of investment that would lead to higher-wage jobs, production, and create a bigger market for skilled labour.

–And if the objections of the financial industry are not enough to prevent sound money, flat taxes, and capital investment, you always have the central planners and bureaucrats to deal with. Under the current system, the government gets to take money from one group in order to bail out another group that cannot compete because of unsound money and stupid tax laws.

–For example, the government (the ‘steal’ industry) would rather tax the resources industry to subsidise the steel industry. This arrangement suits the government perfectly because it makes its agents necessary and ensures their power. They get to decide who to punish with higher taxes and who to reward with hand outs. It’s no wonder power-hungry politicians would relish their place in this system.

–Of course under this system the government creates no value at all. In fact it prevents wealth being created. All it can do is take money from one group and give it to the next. It’s pure wealth redistribution. And aside from being intellectually unimaginative, it caters to the vanity and lust for power of people in politics. It’s disgusting and immoral the more you think about it.

–Far more ethical, just, fair, and prosperous is a combination of sound money, low taxes, a stable rule of law (just as important as stable money), and conditions under which private enterprise can thrive because people know the wealth they create will be theirs to keep. At least, that seems better to us.

–To be fair to Australia’s current money masters, the unsound money they are dealing with is a global problem. It originates with the fact that the world’s reserve currency, the US dollar, is as unsound as it gets. Everything linked to it rots by association.

–This brings us back to yesterday’s closing question. The structural imbalances in the world economy are nearing the breaking point. But what will break first? China’s currency peg? Europe’s monetary union? Or America’s distorted consumption-based economy?

–Our answer? All of it will break at about the same time!

–As analyst Jim Rickard has written, there are four alternatives to the current currency regime: multiple reserve currencies, IMF special drawing rights (SDRs), gold, and chaos. The first two results would come from an orderly retreat from the dollar. The second two would come from a disorderly exit. Entropy being the way of the world, we’re going for accelerating disorder before the emergence of a new currency standard.

Dan Denning
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

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The Storm is Over…

August 31, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Daily Reckoning

Irene was not so bad. She knocked down a few trees, flooded a few basements. But, in the end, she was a good girl who left quietly when her time came.

Traders, players, speculators and mid-night ramblers drifted back into Manhattan as soon as they could clear the fallen trees. They must have felt they had been spared for some great purpose. They must have looked to the heavens as clouds parted and rays of golden sunlight struck their uplifted faced. Whatever got into them, they rushed to the stock exchange and bought US stocks! The Dow rose 254 points.

If you believe the stock market, the storm is over…all is well…

But US GDP grew at only a 1% rate last quarter. That is a small number. Don’t look too carefully or it will disappear altogether. If you deflate the latest ‘growth’ number by the inflation rate published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (actual year-to-year CPI-U is 3.6%) you get negative real growth. Recession, in other words.

And then, you have to wonder. Suppose you were to adjust that number for population? US population is growing at something just under a 1% rate. What you would see is that the average American is getting poorer (his share of GDP) at about 3% or 4% per year.

And then you are able to make sense of a lot of the other economic information that comes your way.

For example, a report out yesterday tells us that the personal savings rate in America keeps edging up — just as you’d expect. From next to zero, it has moved up over 5%. Households continue to cut back on spending…and increase savings. In the last quarter, they paid down $50 billion of debt. A drop in the bucket…but at least it was the right bucket. The Wall Street Journal:

In a marked shift from their borrow-and-spend behavior during the boom, US households are now by and large prioritizing saving and debt reduction. On Monday, the Commerce Department is to release July figures likely to show the personal saving rate, or proportion of after-tax monthly income unspent, in the 5% to 5.5% range…

We also learned that gasoline use is at a 9-year low. Labor Day weekend is less than a week away. But this year, forecasters believe more Americans are going to stay home. They can’t afford the cost of filling up the tank for a long road trip.

We hope this is true. We’re driving up to New York from Baltimore to attend a wedding. We don’t want to get stuck in a lot of traffic.

But it is sad to think that people can’t afford to visit friends and relatives because they don’t have the cash to pay for gasoline. Oh, for the good old days! We remember buying gasoline for 25 cents a gallon back in the early ’70s.

Sigh…but that was before Richard Nixon came up with the funny dollar we have today. Let’s see…suppose Nixon had done the right thing? Suppose he had honored America’s commitment to settle her debts in gold?

There would have been Hell to pay in the mid-’70s…but isn’t it better to pay Hell sooner rather than later? After all, the entire amount of foreign claims against the dollar at the time was something on the order of $50 billion. Now, it is around $4 trillion. Maybe more.

So, just for fun…let’s imagine what would have happened. Of course, there would have been this aforementioned period of wailing and gnashing of teeth. And then? And then, US producers would have had to get busy making and exporting products…while consumers would have been forced to curtail their reckless spending. America’s trade deficit would have remained under control…and the US would still have jobs in manufacturing. And it wouldn’t have debt equal to 370% of GDP.

But how much would people pay for a gallon of gasoline? Well, let’s see…let’s assume that gold has done a fair job as real money, of holding its purchasing power steady. Back in the early ’70s you could have bought 160 gallons of gas with a single ounce of gold. And today? At $1,800 an ounce, and gasoline at $4, you can buy 450 gallons. It’s as if the price of gasoline had fallen to about 10 cents a gallon!

Hmmm….go figure.

Either gasoline is too cheap. Or gold is too expensive. If we were a trader we’d short the latter and go long on the former.

And since we’re always just guessing, we’ll take a guess as to what this means…

Gasoline is weak because the economy is fundamentally weak. Gold is high because Richard Nixon destroyed the integrity of the dollar, the US economy, and the world’s monetary system. Each of these trends will have to play itself out. In the meantime, gasoline…and/or gold…may need a little adjustment. And the storm continues…

And more thoughts…

At least the feds aren’t cutting back. The private sector spent itself silly in the ’00s. Now it’s the feds’ turn.

With all the talk of ‘cuts’ and ‘budget reduction’ you might have the idea that the feds are putting the same screws to their budgets as everyone else. You might have thought, too, that much of recent government spending was temporary ‘stimulus’ spending, intended to kick the US economy in the derriere, in order to get it moving faster. That spending might have been expected to taper off as the emergency passed. If you thought that you would be as dumb as a voter. The 2011 budget is on target to hit an all-time high of $3.6 trillion, more than $100 billion up from last year. Total outlays are increasing at a breathtaking pace — up by a third in just four years.

And now that the debt ceiling has been cracked…the sky’s the limit.


*** Baltimore. Our home town. What a dump.

But what a nice place to study “stimulus” projects. Baltimore has been drawing money from the feds for years…presumably to redress one failure or another. Of course, one failure only led to another….and to more federal funds! In fact, the city is an urban example of the old maxim — you get what you pay for. The feds paid for education programs…infrastructure programs….police programs…welfare programs…

And they all worked beautifully. Now, the city is more failed than ever — and getting more federal funds! Steve Hanke has the report:

How Property Taxes and the ‘Curley Effect’ Are Killing Baltimore
As affluent residents leave town, the political playing field tips further and further in favor of pro-tax Democrats.

By Steve H. Hanke and Stephen J.K. Walters

This coming Labor Day weekend, traffic in downtown Baltimore will move at more than 100 miles per hour — or not at all: The city’s main streets will be closed so that IndyCar racers can compete in the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix. Much more than prize money is at stake.

Nine days later, on Sept. 13, voters will pick a mayor, and incumbent Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is betting that the auto race will draw thousands of free-spending tourists and stimulate the local economy, thereby demonstrating her vision and competence. In fact, it will be an economic dud, a money-loser even for its promoters, and a logistical nightmare for residents.

The race exemplifies the city’s development strategy: Subsidize big downtown projects with other people’s money — in this case, over $6 million in federal stimulus funds for the two-mile race course — and proclaim an urban renaissance.

Away from the waterfront, this strategy’s failure is apparent. The city has lost 30,000 residents and 53,000 jobs since 2000, marking the sixth consecutive decade of population and employment exodus. About 47,000 abandoned houses crumble while residents suffer a homicide rate higher than any large city except Detroit. The poverty rate is 50% above the national average.

Much of this decline is a result of the city’s exorbitant property- tax rates, which are twice as high as any other jurisdiction in Maryland and Washington, D.C. The encouraging news is that all four major mayoral candidates are promising property-tax relief.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake promises an inconsequential cut to 2.068% from 2.268%, spread over nine years. It would be “paid for,” she says, with revenue from a casino that doesn’t exist. Her reluctance to consider stronger medicine reflects not only poor economics but something more sinister.

To attract what little investment Baltimore has in recent decades, public officials awarded subsidies to big developers to offset the difference between the city’s confiscatory tax rate and that of nearby counties. But developers have to “pay to play,” which assures a reliable flow of campaign contributions to sitting officials — and invites corruption. Indeed, Ms. Rawlings-Blake took office only 18 months ago, after the previous mayor resigned as part of a plea bargain to resolve a scandal involving her allegedly accepting gifts from a developer seeking subsidies.

Now Ms. Rawlings-Blake’s challengers are asking: If tax breaks for the connected are a good idea, why not give them to everyone? State Sen. Catherine Pugh promises to halve the city’s tax rate in her first term or not run for a second. Otis Rolley, a former director of city planning, offers a similar 50% cut for the first $200,000 of assessed value and higher rates for more expensive properties (or vacant ones). And Jody Landers, a former city councilman, promises a cut of 30% to 35% phased in over four to six years.

But tax revolts are hard to win at the local level. The problem is what Harvard economists Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer have called the “Curley effect.” In Boston during the first half of the 20th century, Mayor James Michael Curley built a political machine by strategically shaping the electorate — taxing well-heeled “Brahmins” heavily and redistributing the proceeds to poor Irish immigrants. This not only bought Irish votes but chased the old Yankees out to the suburbs, further tilting the political playing field in Curley’s favor.

In modern Baltimore, the machine has exploited class divisions, not ethnic ones. Officials raised property taxes 21 times between 1950 and 1985, channeling the proceeds to favored voting blocs and causing many homeowners and entrepreneurs — disproportionately Republicans — to flee. It was brilliant politics, as Democrats now enjoy an eight-to-one voter registration advantage and no Republican has been elected mayor in 48 years.

But Baltimore’s high property taxes have repelled investment in physical capital for decades. As that capital decayed and became scarce, labor became less productive and less prosperous. In 1950, the city’s median family income was 7% above the national average. Today it is 22% below it. And it won’t be easy to undo this damage as long as City Hall remains in the hands of politicos who are committed to a fatally flawed business plan.

Other noteworthy victims of the “Curley effect” have been rescued via statewide referenda. Boston, for example, was in worse shape than Baltimore back in 1980: Its population had fallen more in the preceding three decades (30% as opposed to 17%), its per capita income was 2% lower, and its crime rate was 42% higher. Then, in 1980, Massachusetts voters adopted Proposition 2 1/2, forcing Boston to cut property taxes by an estimated 75% within two years and capping future annual increases at 2.5%.

It was the kind of reform Boston needed but wouldn’t have chosen itself (akin to California’s earlier Prop 13, which revived cities like San Francisco and Oakland). Businesses and residents flocked back to Beantown. Its population rose 10% between 1980 and today, while its per capita income is now 43% higher and its crime rate 25% lower than Baltimore’s.

The spillover benefits of capital-friendliness — enhanced public safety, school quality, and economic and social mobility — are much- ignored but crucial elements of tax reform. As the renowned urbanologist Jane Jacobs once said, “cities don’t [just] lure the middle class. They create it.”

Baltimore stopped creating its own middle class decades ago, but it has a chance now to reverse decades of disinvestment, depopulation and decay. All voters have to do is invite capitalists back to town for more than just a weekend car race.

Mr. Hanke is a professor of applied economics at the Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Walters is a fellow at the university’s Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.


Bill Bonner,
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

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