Overall, the new energy geography points toward a revival of the Mississippi-Ohio-Missouri river system as the axis of American growth. That’s likely among other things to be good for America’s political climate; the Midwest has traditionally been something of a swing region — less liberal than the coastal northeast and less aggressively conservative than Dixie. Middle Westerners have tended to be pragmatic optimists over time, and it would be interesting to see how a revival of this political tendency would work out in our politics today.
But those days are not here yet, and a national consensus on how to tackle our most difficult problems is far from at hand. A new, high profile report by a bipartisan group of experts chaired by former Fed chief Paul Volcker and Former New York Lieutenant Gov. Richard Ravitch, shows that state finances are much worse than many believe—mostly due to pension liabilities and Medicaid—and that massive adjustments are coming our way. And as if to underline the point, this week Scranton joined several California cities in the agonies of bankruptcy, and California’s biggest pension fund reported a measly 1 percent return on its investments last year, marking the third time in five years that the pension fund has failed to reach the benchmark 7.5 percent it needs to fulfill its obligations. Yet many still wring their hands over declining union membership, even as others notice that Wisconsin’s crackdown on public sector unions is in fact saving the state millions in health care costs alone. Via Meadia’s boring, practical take: the sooner you make your peace with arithmetic, the less it’s going to hurt.Speaking of basic arithmetic, investing in higher education is looking worse and worse to most Americans as this recession winds on. And it’s not just the bum economy. Today’s prospective student can look around and see that many people in their 40s and 50s are still drowning in student debt. It’s no surprise, then, that many are in fact choosing to spend less. And some universities are feeling it, with the University of Missouri being the latest school to shutter its university press due to cost concerns. Other schools are being more proactive, and are enthusiastically getting on the online education bandwagon (which, studies show, can be just as effective as traditional education).Other stories we followed:
- In another turn of the screw for the butcher Assad, a suicide blast in Damascus killed several members of his inner circle. Yet though no one wishes Assad well, this highlighted just how poor our options are in Syria, something the Russians also understand.
- Though everyone was looking elsewhere this week, the important history is still being made in Asia. [Secretary Clinton’s recent essay on the region is an important read for insights as to what’s really going on.
- Tech titans Peter Thiel and Eric Schmidt talked technology and innovation, and VM threw in our five cents.