Is this the end of America’s love affair with the car?

Car ownership numbers peaked in Japan in 1990 and have been trending downwards for twenty years. There is now a worry in auto manufacturing circles that Continue reading

Boozing through the recession

The current recession has seen some marked changes in consumer behaviour. This has generally been a move towards austerity, so much so that a Continue reading

Is the Champagne bubble about to pop?

Champagne producers have spent hundreds of years ensuring their product is associated intimately with notions of power and luxury. The Madrid Treaty of 1891 protected the brand from usurpers, and lawyers working for the producers have fought a number of legal actions in order to continue Continue reading

Most expensive homes in the world

Soooo, Forbes have just listed the ten most expensive homes for sale IN THE WORLD at the moment. At #1 is the Spelling home in California valued at $150 million. Take a look at the picture Continue reading

The Weekly Revisit

This is just a quick update on a few of our posts from the last week.

Follow up #1: Will a new “American Dream” emerge from the current recession?

First of all, in recession news, the New York Times yesterday carried another story of large amounts of people applying for Continue reading

Will a new “American Dream” emerge from the current recession?

The number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected last week, after falling in five of the past six weeks, as employers remain reluctant to hire even with the economy showing signs of recovery.  (MSNBC Oct. 22, 2009)

Consumer spending stayed soft, as jobs remained hard to come by for the nation’s 15 million unemployed … in large part because companies aren’t hiring. (Wall Street Journal Oct. 22, 2009)

Yesterday, Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson predicted the decline of the American Empire. Basing his analysis on the fact that “America today is similar to the Spanish Empire in the 17th century and Britain’s in the 20thcentury”, Ferguson believes that the US is caught in a Continue reading

Nooo, don’t take away my castles!

Reportedly, actor Nicholas Cage is financially up shit creek from a whole lotta gone bad real estate investments. Here’s what he’s selling in order to cover his debts: Continue reading

Would you pay $400 for a gallon of gas?

I'd rather walk

Ever wanted to know why it costs billions of dollars a week to wage a war? Check out these figures from the Pentagon as reported in The Hill this week: Continue reading

Institutionalised racism shows up in US unemployment figures

Gotta say that some of the latest unemployment numbers are quite extraordinary, enough to give me a “Holy Shit” moment. Is it any wonder that African-American males are overrepresented in U.S. prisons when you read the following Continue reading

Fine Dining in the Recession

La Gavroche

La Gavroche -- London

As a quick follow-up to last week’s restaurant recession report, new information in the past week further supports a significant difference in the effects of the recession on restaurants across the U.S and those in London.

Particularly hard hit in the U.S. have been fine dining restaurants, with many Continue reading

House in Dying Detroit bought for $100


Not the $100 house. This house has now been demolished.

On a day when scientists are releasing new information on Kiuic, a ancient Mayan city where it now appears that the inhabitants just walked away in approximately 900AD, leaving a city frozen in time, I thought we would revisit Detroit (which we’ve looked at before a couple of times, here and here), the modern day equivalent of a disappearing city.

Designed to accommodate over two million inhabitants, the population of Detroit is now down under 900,000.  The average house price is approximately $11,000.  There had been rumours that someone purchased a house for as little as $100.  This purchase has now been Continue reading

FBI Statistics Show Crime Falling Despite Recession

It would seem to be common sense that during a recession crime rates would increase, right? After all, desperate times can drive people to do things they may not ordinarily do, such as engaging in theft, shoplifting and burglary. On top of that, the tensions associated with financial distress are likely to boil over at times into physical violence.

The majority of Americans tend to agree with this assumption — in a recent Rasmussen poll, 80% of Americans believed that worsening economic conditions would lead to a rise in crime. These beliefs are backed up by criminologists who, according to the CS Monitor, “have expected crime rates to rise -– especially as young unemployed males turn to illegal enterprises for cash during the recession.”

Turns out that such thinking may be so much myth. A report from the FBI earlier this week indicated that crime has dwindled down to 1960s levels. The latest figures are illustrated here in this very nice graphic from the FBI web site:

us crime statistics060508

The Monitor sums up these figures:

The report is gleaned from law enforcement reports spanning 2007 and 2008 – including a period that preceded the recession’s grip. The data show that the murder rate dropped 4 percent, and the total number of reported rapes dropped to 89,000 – the lowest level in 20 years. Car thefts were down 12 percent.

Research shows that this drop in crime during a recession is not without precedent. In his book “Lessons from the Great Depression”, Stephen Wiegand details how crime rates initially rose in the first few years of the Depression but dropped dramatically after the end of Prohibition in 1933. But he does note that property crimes and burglaries were the felonies that remained stubbornly higher than most other forms of lawbreaking.

These counterintuitive statistics have led some criminologists to suggest that because crime is local, and because poverty and/or the effects of the recession tend to hit the same communities quite evenly, crime may not rise if everyone feels that others are in the same position as themselves. As Stephen Handelman, director of the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College in New York puts it:

“If everybody’s in the same bag, then individual neighborhoods are not necessarily as threatened as when you have sharp disparities in income, as you did in the 1990s.”

At present, however, all bets are on hold, because the real hurt of this recession in terms of unemployment and its effects is yet to be fully represented in the statistics. This is because these latest FBI figures relate to 2008 and we are now another year into this mess.


Where is the economy headed? Don’t ask an economist


This should be easy. I'm an economist, after all. Or does that mean I'll get it wrong.

My sister has worked for the OECD in Paris for 20 years. I’ve asked her a couple of times about the sorts of things that the economists around the organisation  have been saying about the current recession (and believe me, that place is jammed full with economists). As she says, the OECD economists only seem to be able to tell you what went wrong, not predict that it was going to happen. In the early days of the recession, when confronted about the economic downturn,  these economists would mumble incoherently about Continue reading

“They’re Happy Because They Eat Lard”: remembering the current recession

lardI was making a sandwich a couple of days ago and sitting on the kitchen bench in a cup was the solidified fat—the dripping!—from the previous night’s roast, destined for the rubbish bin. Eyeing it up, I was reminded of how my parents used to talk of eating bread and dripping during the Great Depression. And the Depression was not an easy time for them—my mother’s family lost their home, taken by the bank, and my father talks of his father, a builder, going out looking for work every day for several years, scratching by on the occasional odd job.  Sacrificing on luxuries became an engrained part of their lives. Continue reading