A review of “One Billion Americans” by Matthew Yglesias and “The Riches of This Land” by Jim Tankersley

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Last April, as grocery stores in the United States struggled to keep toilet paper on the shelves and hospitals’ supply of protective equipment ran low, an essay from venture capitalist Marc Andreessen popped into the Twitter feeds of the quarantined chattering classes. “IT’S TIME TO BUILD,” read the all-caps headline. It was less an op-ed than an indictment of the “monumental failure of institutional effectiveness” that had caught the United States’s healthcare, financial, and industrial supply-chain systems flat-footed in the face of COVID-19. …


Three forces are converging to transform economic thinking

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Photo by Ian Hutchinson via Unsplash

It’s been easy to miss, but we could be in the middle of a major shift in economic policy thinking in the United States. With media attention focused on extremist violence at the Capitol, it’s no surprise that the details of fiscal policy have taken a backseat in the popular press. If we’re lucky, though, the impact of those economic changes will have a longer legacy than the suddenly visible coalition of conspiracy theorists.

Political, situational, and generational trends have raised the prospects of an ambitious and far-reaching federal spending program to alter the economy for the first time since…


Social media discourse on the latest COVID package is undermining clear analysis of the US safety net

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Photo source: Wikimedia Commons by selbstfotografiert

A second round of COVID relief finally made it through Congress this week. The $900 billion package weighed in at a hefty 5,000+ pages. There’s a lot in there, from broadband funding to airline payroll support. Politico provides the bullet points here.

The bulk of the bill, about $611 billion, contains three big programs — additional Payroll Protection Program funds for small businesses, a $300/week federal supplement for unemployment insurance, and a second round of stimulus checks, this time for $600.

You probably heard about the $600. If you spend any time on social media, you probably came across some…


Economists often dismiss narrative storytelling. Robert Shiller’s new book suggests they shouldn’t.

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Economists don’t put a lot of stock in anecdotes. History, journalism and other qualitative studies without rigorous mathematical proofs are often dismissed as mere “stories.”

There might be some truth to that. But it’s not the insult some think it is. Stories shape our lives and decisions in ways spreadsheets never can.

Robert Shiller’s latest book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events corrects the record, calling for scientifically valid study of key narratives in American history and how those narratives have influenced broader…


Mixed-Income Neighborhoods and Economic Mobility

Morning walks around the neighborhood take me down some rapidly changing blocks. On a side street backed up to the creek, rows of beige-brick duplexes built in the late 50s and early 60s renting for $800-$1,000 a month have been replaced over the past two years by looming three stories with woodgrain trim and two-car garages listed for $1.2 million.

It’s a common scene in this neighborhood four miles from the center city, on a greenway backing up to the old money boulevard of mature oak trees and, most importantly, in a “good” school district. Still, the aging duplexes on…


The gig economy has been a boon for consumers and some independent workers. But for others in the service sector, just-in-time scheduling has made making a living a constant churn.

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A gig economy grocery delivery service in London. Photo by Môsieur J. via Wikimedia Commons

We took our last trip to the supermarket on March 6, 2020. It was a Friday after work — the last Friday before pandemic doom set in. A sales rep from Corona beer was giving free samples and making awkward jokes that don’t seem funny in retrospect. Since then, every 10 days or so, my wife or I have typed an order into our grocery store app. A few hours later, an Instacart shopper leaves a stack of bags in our condo lobby.

What started as a temporary measure to avoid public spaces as coronavirus cases spiked has become permanent…


Executives are worried about office culture in a work-from-home world. Civic and neighborhood culture are longer-lasting and more important for healthy societies.

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It’s automated out-of-office reply season again. That time of year when you can expect emails from European colleagues or clients to go unanswered until next month. And nervous emails from American colleagues sent off-hours from the darkest corners of their beach rentals.

I am particularly fond of a line in German out-of-office replies: Ihre E-Mail wird nicht weiter geleitet. Your email will not be forwarded.

The context is clear. “I’m gone. Deal with it.”

It’s cliche for Americans to complain about (or pine for) Europeans’ long summer vacations and generous benefits. But a quick look at the data shows that…


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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few places produce mixed emotions like “the suburbs.” They’ve been framed as idyllic retreats from the hectic city or insular bunkers for the frightened and middle-aged; seas of sameness and conformity or islands of opportunity for the upwardly mobile.

While 20th-century culture critics condescended, Americans kept moving there anyway. Since 1990, more of the US population has lived in suburban counties than anywhere else — 55% as of recent Census counts. This despite the revitalization of many urban cores and the “back to the city” movement of the 1990s and 2000s that had some predicting the end of the suburbs.

Chuck McShane

Economic analyst and storyteller. North Carolinian. #urbanplanning #economicdevelopment Subscribe to “Growth and Dreams” newsletter: chuckmcshane.substack.com

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