2.07.2009

Eight Meetings Downtown

One of the advantages of living in Philadelphia is that in addition to itself being a big city, it’s easy to get to other big cities like New York, Washington, Baltimore, and Boston. Similarly, one of the advantages of working in University City is that in addition to itself being a major employment hub, it’s easy to get to Center City, which is the region’s main employment hub.

Thus, you are able to do crazy things like have eight separate meetings downtown in a three-day span:

* Wednesday of this week brought me to a partner at 21st and Cherry and a client at 16th and JFK;

* Thursday of this week brought me to a group meeting at 12th and Arch, back-to-back catch-ups with colleagues at a coffee shop at 12th and Walnut, and then back to 12th and Arch for another group meeting; and

* Friday of this week brought me back to Broad and Arch for a speaking engagement, and then 12th and Arch for yet another group meeting.

SEPTA betrayed me at the very beginning – a stalled trolley car forced a massive detour on my part, the day after the region’s big snowfall no less – but kept me going smoothly for the rest of the week. And a dense, walkable downtown area makes life relatively easy for those of us on two feet (and horrific for those on four wheels). So even though so many meetings stacked one after the other borders on insane, I was able to manage relatively easily.

Unemployment in Real Terms

Below are my remarks at an event hosted by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project yesterday called “Surviving the Recession: A Resource Fair for the Unemployed.” I have to confess more than the usual nervousness about this speaking gig. How would an audience that was predominantly low-income and Democrat take to an Ivy League-educated Republican who has never been involuntarily unemployed and has come from an embarrassing amount of privilege?

Thankfully, my comments were fairly well-received, even though I zigged at times where other speakers had zagged. Perhaps people appreciated a balanced perspective, and perhaps peoples’ take on life wasn’t as monolithic as I had casually assumed.

Unexpectedly, since I was so worried about how the audience would hear me, it didn’t occur to me that I would have a lot to learn from them. In fact, I did. We economists speak of unemployment all the time, but there’s nothing like standing in front of a room full of 125+ of the unemployed to bring the reality of unemployment to the human scale.

I did not want to come off as unempathetic, but nor did I want to come off as inauthentically empathetic. In a very real sense, I don’t know what it is like to be in their situation: besides the government, I have countless safety nets to rely on, and am far farther from the brink than those who I spent the morning with. And despite living, working, and worshipping in an inner city neighborhood (albeit a gentrifying one) for several years now, I do not feel at all in tune with the plight of this population. Being barely above water if not constantly under water is a way of life for this universe, and the tidal wave that is the current recession is more than enough to leave one flailing and gasping.

Hopefully, I struck a delicate balance between soberness and optimism in my words. These aren’t the exact ones I used yesterday, but they are close enough to capture my sentiment. I’m grateful that for me this topic is one that is purely intellectual and theoretical in nature. And I’m grateful as well to have very real contact with a growing mass of locals for whom this topic is not at all intellectual and theoretical but rather real and despairing, and whose struggles I have a new appreciation for after yesterday’s time together.


***

Thank you. I am honored to be here, but humbled by the occasion and the context. I don't have to tell you that the economy is in the tank; for many of you are on the frontlines of the pain. Our country's rising unemployment rate is for many of you not just a reported statistic but an oppressive reality. Health care and entitlement reform, foreclosures, and what to do about the declining auto industry – for many of you, these are not just the subject of policy debates on CNN and NPR; they have spilled painfully into tough talks around the dinner table. It would be a disservice to gloss over your hardships, or to promise a rosy future in response.

However, what we can do in our time together is join in the sentiment expressed by President Obama in his inaugural address last month. Soberly, he affirmed that we are facing unprecedented challenges; but, resolutely, he affirmed that Americans are made of good stuff, and that the combination of individual hard work and government support will not only lift us from our struggles but inspire and lead a world that wants to look to us for inspiration and leadership. And one need only scan this room to be buoyed by the human capital and the committed agencies that have been assembled here this morning.

As an economist, I'm often asked the following questions, which you may yourself be seeking answers for. First, what happened? Second, what's next? Third, what'll it take to turn this around? And fourth, what can I do? Truth be told, we economists don't know the answers to any of these questions. The Great Depression ended over 70 years ago, and yet there's still disagreement about its causes and about whether various solutions made things better or worse. In this regard, I suppose we are even worse than meteorologists, who may get today's weather wrong but can at least tell you with certainty what yesterday's weather was. But let me give this a shot anyway.

What happened was a perfect storm of overbuilt housing markets, over-leveraged financial institutions, and slumping global demand. Cheap credit plus the false sense that real estate prices could only go up meant that too many people bought houses and took out mortgages they couldn't afford. Notably, this was particularly the case, not in inner cities, but in upper-middle class neighborhoods in places like Vegas, Phoenix, and Miami, places which then got doubly hit when everything came crashing down AND higher gas prices and heightened environmental concerns made spread-out places less attractive.

Meanwhile, mortgage companies didn't care about properly assessing the risk of their borrowers because they learned they could package these mortgages and sell them in bundles, thus ridding themselves of any downside and collecting all their profit upfront. In turn, financial institutions bought up these bundles in record amounts and baked them into their investment portfolios. Insurance companies earned their fee by promising to defend against defaults they assumed would never happen. And ratings agencies got their cut for quickly sniffing these bundles and declaring them legit.

We now know that what goes up can indeed come down. And the interconnectedness of our housing and financial markets was such that the casualties came swiftly: Bear Stearns, AIG, Lehman Brothers. Because many of us used our houses as piggy banks to sustain our buying binges, the housing downturn led to a downturn in spending; and the financial crisis prevented businesses of all stripes from getting the working capital they needed to stay afloat. Next thing you knew, homeowners were underwater, holiday retail sales were a bloodbath, and states and cities saw massive decreases in their bread and butter revenue sources.

2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, and January’s numbers, which were just released at 8:30 this morning, were even worse: 600,000 jobs lost in a single month. Keep in mind that because of population growth, to maintain a steady unemployment rate we need to add about 100,000 jobs a month; so in the past 13 months, instead of adding 1.3 million jobs just to keep up, or more, so as to lower the unemployment rate, we have instead bled 3.2 million jobs.

Unfortunately, stimulus or no – and whether the current package that is being debated in Congress is the right move or not is a whole other presentation – these weaknesses are going to take a long time to unwind. The consensus among economists is that the unemployment rate is going to continue to rise for the remainder of 2009, peaking at 9% or more, which would mean an additional 1.5 million or more jobs lost.

By the way, let me say a word or three about the stimulus bill. First, let's remember: this isn't free money just sitting around in DC; it's our money, and if we use it today, we have to repay it with interest tomorrow. So it behooves us to make sure we spend our kids' and grandkids' money wisely.

Unfortunately, just as many Americans went deeper into debt to fund short-term pleasures like vacations and flat screen TVs, our elected representatives in Congress appear to be allocating far too much of the stimulus dollars for things that do not improve our long-term competitiveness as a nation, but perhaps might win them some votes in their next election.

The Republicans would like to point the finger at the Democrats, but then they respond with an equally careless proposal, which is to guarantee 4% mortgages. Didn't I just get done saying that what got us into this mess was that we borrowed too much? Besides that, the Republicans haven't offered anything better, and some stimulus is clearly needed, so the longer we bicker, the more we delay much-needed relief.

I'll end my rant about the stimulus bill on a more positive note: there are some good things in there, notably some extension of unemployment benefits, some relief for cash-strapped states, and some strategic investments in much-needed infrastructure projects that will also put people to work. But the overall take-away, if you're hoping that massive government spending is the solution to all of our economic problems, is: be careful what you wish for. Do be worried that federal mucking around might make things worse or make the pain last longer. Do hold your elected officials to the same standard you would put on the spending of your money for your sake and your kids' sake, because ultimately, that's exactly what we've elected them to do, is to spend our money and our kids' money prudently. And do push those elected officials to put aside partisan bickering so we can get something sensible passed that can provide relief where relief is needed, and stimulus where stimulus is needed.

There is, however, hope for Philadelphia and for Philadelphians. We have a diversified economy, world-class educational and research institutions, and a dense urban fabric well served by transit. These are all characteristics that will typify resilient and sustainable cities over the remainder of the century. But there are at least three important things we need to do to get there.

First, we need to organize ourselves to capitalize on potential job creation associated with what people are calling the Green Economy: installing solar panels, retrofitting schools, conducting energy audits. Thanks to the efforts of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, Philadelphia is seen as a national leader in Green Economy grassroots activism; but we need to continue to work aggressively to translate this early work into lasting results, both in terms of greening our city and creating well-paying employment opportunities.

Second, we need to concentrate our development efforts near transit stops. Orienting residential, office, retail, and other neighborhood-serving uses to transit stations can make communities safer, connect people more easily to employment and shopping opportunities, and reduce transportation costs for working families. After almost a decade of boom, both in Center City and in our neighborhoods, we’re going to have to get more selective about where and how we grow. And the biggest payoff – for the environment, for the economy, and for our neighborhoods – is near transit stops.

Third, we need to double down on our investment in education, both for our children as well as for ourselves. In our nation's first century, we were an agricultural economy, so those who owned the land held the power. In our nation's second century, we were an industrial economy, so those who owned the capital held the power. In our nation's third century, we are now an information economy, so those who own the knowledge hold the power.

Sadly, as with land and capital in previous centuries, the extent to which we have knowledge is too often predicated on the family and neighborhood into which we are born. But the present inequities in education access, education funding, and education quality do not have to continue. A knowledge economy allows for more social mobility than an agricultural economy or an industrial economy; but only if we work hard to make more education more available to more people.

In fact, there are many on-ramps to success, as we are seeing a proliferation of educational resources like online learning, customized degrees for working adults, and technical assistance resources for small businesses. Wherever you’re coming from, all of us need to commit to constantly reinvesting in our human capital, lest we become as obsolete and marginalized as yesterday’s machinery. In fact, you will find in this very room assembled for you a number of outlets and individuals who are here for the express purpose of sharpening, retooling, and reconnecting you. Let me particularly single out Community College, a great and affordable connection to education and employment opportunities; as well as The Enterprise Center, where I worked for ten years and where I now serve on the board, which does so much in West Philadelphia and beyond to help minority entrepreneurs of all ages grow their businesses and create new jobs.

And, lest tough times cause us to focus inwardly to the neglect of those around us, all of us can commit to doing what we can to educate the next generation, with a particular focus on those children who lack for educational and other resources. All of us can be a mentor, a social resource, a role model to those who will carry the torch after us.

When times are tough, it can be tempting to throw in the towel, to give up on ourselves and our future, or at the very least to close off from opportunities to extend a hand of support to others. But this nation is great because, far from shrinking back, we resolutely press forward. We use challenging times to motivate us all the more to do what we can for ourselves, our families, and our communities. As individuals and as a country, our darkest hours were also the times we shook off what was holding us back, innovated our way to better places, and demonstrated our value for family and for community and for those less fortunate in the way we prioritized service even as we ourselves were struggling. And so I urge you to make the most of the resources that have been assembled here, and – having been helped much – to help others. Thank you.

A Cure That Prolongs the Pain

Experts are divided on what exactly got us into this economic mess, but I'm pretty sure it's safe to say that if you wanted to formulate a recipe for prolonging the pain, you'd include compensation caps, protectionist provisions, and loose lending subsidies.

And, lo and behold, that's exactly what our Democratic Congress has come up with. Drawing on familiar themes of vilifying the rich, "protecting" the American worker, and "helping" people where it hurts, they're laying the groundwork for an epically long recession by crippling the mechanisms that allow the economy to recover.

On the subject of compensation caps, I'm going to link to two recent posts by my friend, the Suburban Family Guy: "Government Control of Spending" and "Bluster or Dangerous Path?".

As for protectionist provisions, check out this recent article by the Center for Trade Policy Studies: "'Shipping Jobs Overseas' or Reaching New Customers? Why Congress Should Not Tax Reinvested Earnings Abroad." Here are some nuggets if you don't have time to read the full article:

* More than half of the products made by US companies in Mexico and China are sold in Mexico and China, versus barely a sixth sold back to the US. (So much for accusing US manufacturers of offshoring jobs to save a buck on goods sold here.)

* US manufacturers invested $2 billion in Mexico and $2 billion in China, which seems like a lot until you realize they invested $22 billion in Europe and $165 billion in America, while non-US manufacturers invested $59 billion in America. (Obama, you may recall, spoke often of workers in Ohio who saw their plants shipped wholesale to China.)

* US factories in the US shed 3 million jobs from 2000 to 2006, but US factories overseas gained only 128,000 jobs, including plus 172,000 in China and minus 100,00 in Mexico. (In other words, those manufacturing job losses weren't "offshored," they were largely rendered unnecessary due to automation.)

Lastly, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, answers the question, "How Did We Get into This Financial Mess?" Their answers: amped up regulation of mortgage markets, artificially low mortgage rates, and an increased federal role in Fannie and Freddie. And the solution to a problem with these causes is to encourage more of these same causes? (Note: I do disagree with the article's claim that pressure to lend to risky borrowers in low-income neighborhoods is also part of the cause; the data do not appear to bear this out.)

As New York Times columnist David Brooks points out, President Obama is transformative in his style but conventional in his substance. So far, the stimulus bill is a patently Democrat-laden work; here's hoping that style trumps substance and we get a more reasoned approach to the mess we're in.

2.06.2009

Taking Back the Streets

What do you call two people standing the middle of a busy Manhattan street? A brazen protest? A dangerous fraternity initiation rite? A suicide pact? Increasingly, the answer is: lunch.

Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to levy a congestion fee for driving into Manhattan was struck down in Albany last year. But one thing New York City has fiat power over is its streets themselves. And according to this article in a recent Governing Magazine, Bloomberg's transportation commissioner, has used this power to close off streets to cars, creating plazas as well as seating areas for outdoor cafes.

When we think about city planning, we tend to focus on lots (i.e. zoning), waterfronts, and parks. But streets are a clever way to implement policy priorities. If we want our cities to be amenable at the pedestrian and bicyclist scale, what New York City is doing is a relatively expeditious way to do it.

And when we think of transportation departments, the historical focus has been flow-through: how can we get cars circulating as quickly as possible. But New York City's example reminds us that maybe there's a place for thinking about the streets themselves, and about the ways we negotiate the rights of different users on them.

2.05.2009

Heavy Snow Clears a Path for Me

The heaviest snow of the season blanketed our region earlier this
week. After briefly taking in the beauty that it has created - trees
accented in white, glistening streets, the quietness of it all - I
grumbedly went about compensating for its existence: shoveling our
sidewalk, unburying our car, seeing if I had to move my schedule
around to account for slower travel times.

To compound matters, after slogging the kids to day care, I found the
building closed and dark. The dreary thought of having to schlep all
the way back home, and then negotiate with Amy as to how we would
cover the next ten hours, was thankfully interrupted by the arrival of
one of the workers, who informed me they were in fact open, albeit a
couple hours later than usual. So instead I only had to wait 15
minutes while she got the place open and ready.

Thusly relieved of my potential day care dilemma, I set about dragging
my empty stroller to work. Finally with a moment to breathe, I could
not help but re-take in this winter wonderland. I was particularly
fascinated by the trees, of course barren for several weeks, but now
highlighted brilliantly by a heavy coating of snow. I noted how the
branches fanned out and pointed upward, and imagined them to be a
mirror image of roots below the ground.

It occurred to me then that we are not much different than trees. The
shape of trees is not set at birth; rather, branches and roots grow
towards sustenance. And so should we be: literal and figurative arms
raised to the heavens, literal and figurative roots planted deeply and
firmly, both fanned out to receive as much as possible.

My daydreaming had to end abruptly as I arrived at the doorstep of the
building in which my office is located. Next I have a moment, I'll
have to give thought to whether my own life lines up with what a
healthy tree should look like, whether I am indeed - outwardly as well
as below the surface - reaching out as far and wide to get as much
from God as I can. Until then, I am thankful for the snow; though it
gums up roads and sidewalks, it also cleared a path for me to see more
clearly what our lives are to be about.

2.04.2009

Which Side of the Fence

If there's an issue I'm holding my breath on, it's trade. Barack the Magic Campaigner could be all things to all people; Barack the 44th President of the United States has to make some tough choices. The "Buy American" crowd wants to preserve jobs for citizens; the multinational business crowd understands that such provisions will almost certainly ice US businesses out of opportunities to compete for work generated by other governments' stimulus efforts.

This article suggests President Obama has sent mixed signals so far: "US-EU Trade War Looms as Barack Obama Bill Urges 'Buy American.'"

Perched on one shoulder are free trade advocates like Bill Lane of Caterpillar: "We are the first to recognise that if the US embraces Buy American then the whole notion of buying national will mestastasize and limit our ability to take part in overseas projects. We are students of history. A major reason a very deep recession turned into the Great Depression was the fact that countries turned inward."

Perched on the other shoulder are those who represent distressed Rust Belt states like Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio: "As we are losing jobs in record numbers, we obviously need to devote these funds to direct creation of American jobs. To do that, we must ensure that federal funds are used to buy American products and to help promote manufacturing in our country. Ultimately I want taxpayers to know where their dollars are being spent. Are they being spent on American products or products coming from Germany or Mexico?"

So which side of the fence is President Obama going to fall on? I'm breathlessly waiting.

Hasty Thinking is a Bipartisan Effort

I could not help but notice the Cato Institute’s full-page ad in yesterday’s Inquirer, which rightly points out something that Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has said previously, which is that “it is very hard to find examples of successful fiscal stimulus driving an economic recovery - ever.”

And yet, on both sides of the aisle, our elected officials are tripping over themselves trying to save us, only to wound us further. A column in Philadelphia Inquirer’s Commentary section lambastes the Democrats for using the stimulus bill to fund their favorite projects ($4.2 billion for ACORN?). Not to be outdone, Republicans are clamoring for 4 percent mortgage rates even though over-borrowing is partly what got us into this mess in the first place.

I’m not saying that we should do nothing. I’m just saying that doing something for something’s sake sometimes gets us further from pain alleviation rather than closer. And so far, no one has shown me that the specific plans on the table can be interpreted as otherwise.

Worlds Collide Again

Here's another "world's collide" moment: I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's newest book, "Outliers," when I spied this article about Leadership Philadelphia's latest event, which featured Gladwell. As an alum (Class of '03), I had gotten the invite but had to decline, although I do remember being in attendance the last time Leadership Philadelphia had brought Gladwell in: it was over four years ago, when the Eagles were gearing up for Super Bowl XXXIX, and Gladwell opened his remarks by making a wicked joke about TO.

The article goes on to note that Leadership Philadelphia was started by members of the Fels Institute of Government in 1959, and was spun off 19 years later. Even though I am a proud alum of Fels (Class of '06), somehow I was not aware of the Leadership/Fels connection; although it is very much in line with the kinds of things my alma mater does.

As disorienting as it is sometimes, I like it when worlds collide. It sure beats compartmentalized living. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go reread my book on the Oakland A's, in the hopes that it will then cosmically lead to them winning the World Series this year.

2.03.2009

Skepticism on Stimulus

A quadfecta of recent links from Greg Mankiw's blog remind us of the importance of healthy skepticism concerning the current stimulus bill being discussed in Congress:

* February 2 - a lot of money is going to be wasted, such as on school districts with declining enrollments and empty buildings

* February 2 - hasty short-term government spending can lead to higher levels of long-term government spending

* February 2 - "Buy America" stipulations can result in reduced employment impacts

* February 1 - government intervention likely prolonged the Great Depression

Of course, with every day comes new waves of bad news, and politicians of all stripes, looking ahead to their next election, are itchy to be seen as "doing something." Here's hoping that whatever the "something" ends up being doesn't bring us even more pain or make it last even longer.

2.02.2009

25 Random Things

There's this meme going around Facebook called "25 Random Things,"
where you're supposed to post 25 things about yourself and tag 25
people who you want to learn more about. I usually don't respond to
stray things on FB, but a few friends have tagged me and their posts
have been so interesting; so here are my 25:

1. I was born in Seattle and grew up in San Jose but am now a devoted
fan of all things Philadelphia. The combination of big-city amenities
(everything from high culture to film festivals to four big-league
sports teams), a diversified economy (the 9th richest metro region –
in the world (!) – as of 2005, and projected to be 8th by 2020), and
affordable neighborhoods (we bought our house for less than $100K nine
years ago), you really can't beat the value proposition. And with
environmental pressures and energy prices making sprawling areas less
attractive, dense and well-transited Philly looks to gain even more
ground.

2. Though I wasn't born in Taiwan, Taiwanese was my first language,
and to this day, give me a week or so of brushing up and I can be
conversant again, and glad I haven't completely that important
connection to my heritage.

3. My parents still live in the same house in San Jose that they've
owned for 30+ years; and my sister and her husband just moved last
year to Merced, where she's a nurse and he's a professor at UC Merced.

4. In my first appearance in the Little League playoffs, I struck out
to end the game and our season.

5. During my first driver's license exam, I almost got into a car
accident that was so close that it left the examiner in hysterics.
Needless to say, I didn't pass that day.

6. I became a Christian in high school, after almost no exposure to
church before then. Formative experiences in the faith include
talking to strangers about Jesus at Daytona Beach, serving in various
leadership positions with a college parachurch organization called
InterVarsity, and spending a summer working and serving in Eastern
Europe when I was 20.

7. I took first place in the nation in Accounting at the Future
Business Leaders of America's annual conference my senior year in high
school.

8. I was one of 13 class valedictorians at my high school and one of
three at my junior high school.

9. When I was 18, my friends and I thought it would be fun to break
into our friend's house for his birthday and hold him up at gunpoint
(well, BB-gunpoint) when he came home. Unfortunately, the plan went
awry when he was able to duck back outside and call the cops, which
made for an uncomfortable two hours of five (!) policemen searching
his apartment while we covertly tucked away any evidence of our gag.

10. I got one of my front teeth knocked out playing pick-up hoops in
college, so the dentist had to saw down the teeth to the left and
right and pop a three-tooth bridge on top of them.

11. I am a proud alum of Wharton (BS'95) and Fels (MGA'06). Never
content to get a degree the usual way, I was somehow able to finagle
an unprecedented waiver out of Accounting 101 at Wharton, and I think
I was the first Felsonian to qualify for two certificates along with
my MGA without taking any extra classes.

12. When I was 25, I and two friends drove across the country and back
to visit friends and see sights. Well, it was more of a big, 21-day,
8800-mile oval: we took 95 through North Carolina and cut over to New
Orleans, took 10 all the way to LA, 5 all the way to Seattle, 90 to
Chicago, and 90/80/76 back to Philly.

13. I met my wife Amy through our mutual participation in Penn
InterVarsity. We dated, broke up, dated some more, and got married in
2000. She had enough ice in her veins to sing a solo to me at our
wedding. She's beaten thyroid cancer is currently completing
coursework at Penn to become a Certified Registered Nurse
Practitioner; having already received a Masters in Psychiatric
Nursing, she is now angling for a job in the prison system.

14. My best friend Glenn passed away unexpectedly over four years ago,
and there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about him and
about how much I wish he was still alive.

15. I worked for ten years at The Enterprise Center, most recently as
Executive Vice President, and since then have served on the board for
three years, which makes 13+ years of marveling at this little
organization that does so much to advance the cause of minority
entrepreneurship. While I was working there, I started a youth
entrepreneurship program that is still in existence and that offers
classes in several local high schools.

16. We adopted our daughter Jada in 2005 from China. She pops up in
the morning asking, "What are we doing today," and carries that gusto
through the day; but then she gets strange at bedtime, among other
things wrapping herself in blankets like a burrito instead of getting
underneath her covers.

17. We adopted our son Aaron in 2007 from Taiwan. Changing his diaper
in the morning is like wrestling an alligator, and he is similarly
ornery for much of the day; but by bedtime he takes on a sweet
disposition.

18. Because I walk to work and drop the kids off on the way, and
because our day care doesn't allow us to park strollers there, I walk
four blocks in the morning and four more in the evening pushing an
empty stroller down a busy urban street (and getting funny looks and
not a few snide remarks all along the way).

19. Both of our kids have extra speech and behavioral challenges,
which make parenting tiring and exasperating at times. But Amy has
persistently fought for and secured various sources of extra
assistance for us and them, which we're slogging through now.

20. I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and in salvation through
faith in Jesus, but think gay marriages should be legitimized; I'm
sympathetic to left-wing objectives but think that everything they
propose only makes things worse; I'm a fiscal conservative but have
long argued for far higher federal gas taxes; and I live in one of the
most liberal neighborhoods in a big coastal city in a blue state, and
yet voted for Bush and McCain in the last two elections.

21. I spend almost zero time and money on leisure: no TV, no movies,
no hobbies. I make a small exception for fast-forwarding through
football games while on the treadmill on Monday morning; but otherwise
I prefer urban running, with favorite short routes in the inky morning
darkness along the Schuylkill River or to Rittenhouse Square, and, as
time permits, longer jaunts to Penn's Landing and Falls Bridge. Every
once in a blue moon, I will take a train ride to a nearby city for a
day trip, reading business magazines along the way and exploring
sights and finding friends when I get there.

22. My typical weekday schedule is: 4a-5a wake up, pray 5a-6a exercise
6a-8a get the kids up, fed, and off to school 8a-6p work 6p-8p get the
kids home, fed, and off to bed 8p-9p read in bed 9p-4a sleep. My
typical weekend and holiday schedule is: 4a-5a wake up, pray 5a-6a
exercise 6a-8a get the kids up, fed, and ready 8a-12p some sort of fun
with the kids 12p-1p lunch, nap prep 1p-4p get the kids off to naps,
do chores while they're sleeping 4p-6p some sort of fun with the kids
6p-8p dinner, bedtime 8p-9p read in bed 9p-4a sleep.

23. Since 2006, I have been employed at Econsult Corporation, a small
economic consulting firm that has done a ton of really neat work here
in Philadelphia and around the world. To cite but two examples, we
have done economic development strategy work in the US Virgin Islands
and are an integral part of the current local discussion around
property tax abatements for new construction.

24. Other professional pursuits include: campaigning for my friend
David Oh as he attempts to become the first Asian-American City
Councilperson in Philadelphia (2003, 2007, and maybe 2011?); being a
fellow of the British American Project and a member of the
Philadelphia 2010 conference planning committee; serving on the
advisory committee of the proposed Democracy in Action Charter School;
and sitting on the Green Economy Funding Committee of the Sustainable
Business Network of Greater Philadelphia.

25. We attend a church within walking distance of our house, Woodland
Presbyterian Church, where I have been an elder for eight out of the
last ten years. We are an eclectic mix of all races, ages,
socio-economic statuses, and spiritual backgrounds, and we're still
stumbling after some high-profile leadership setbacks earlier this
decade. But God is still at work in us and through us.

Celebrate Black History . . . and Future

Yesterday morning, as a kickoff to Black History Month, our church
sang "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing." It is a rousing hymnal, this "Negro
National Anthem," and it is a rousing time in history for us to be
singing it. For though we have a long, long way to go in terms of
race relations and a level playing field for African Americans, we can
also unashamedly claim some great progress to date, notably in the
recent election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United
States, the first black man to hold the highest office in a majority
white country.

Indeed, as I looked around and saw people of all skin colors singing
and swaying, I could not help but close my eyes and hear the voices of
those who have gone before us, who have made intercession and cried
tears and even shed blood in the fight for civil rights and against
racism. I personally, as well as my generation, my race, and my
nation owe a great deal to those activists. Here's hoping that during
this Black History Month, we can get to know some of those heroes, and
by remembering them give them some of the due they're due.

Lift every voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
'Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear of the Foreigner

Uh oh: President Obama appears to be favoring unions and protectionism in his economic stimulus efforts, as linked to by Greg Mankiw's blog: "Smoot, Hawley, and Pelosi" and "Summers vs. Obama". Meanwhile, Republican senator Chuck Grassley asked Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to spare the Americans and ax H-1B expats in its 5000-person layoff.

It's as I feared: as the pie dwindles, people clamor to guard their piece, even employing methods that will shrink the pie even more. And President Obama understandably does not appear willing to jeopardize his sky-high approval ratings or his 2012 reelection bid, not when protecting American jobs for Americans seems so unassailable. Alas, it looks like we may be in for a prolonged recession (a "U" instead of a "V"), and perhaps even a worse economy when we're done (the dreaded "L").