This is Big Book

  • Cities and the Wealth of Nations by Jane Jacobs.
  • Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic.



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In the years since the Great Recession, there’s been a lot of effort made to ensure a government is sharing its complete fiscal picture. In many cases, this transparency push has resulted in a government’s bottom line going from a surplus to a shortfall thanks to the introduction of things like pension and retiree health benefit liabilities to annual balance sheets.

But some think governments are still leaving a few things off the ledger. Dag Detter and Stefan Folster, co-authors of the new book The Public Wealth of Cities , say localities are failing to realize the true value of the public assets they own, such as airports, convention centers, utilities and transit systems, just to name a few. “The public sector owns a lot of commercial assets,” says Detter, a Swedish investment advisor and expert on public commercial assets.

But, he adds, it doesn’t manage the risk of increased costs associated with those assets very well. Then, “the inclination is to give [management] away to the private sector,” he says. “But when you do that, you also have to give away the upside.”

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

In the years since the Great Recession, there’s been a lot of effort made to ensure a government is sharing its complete fiscal picture. In many cases, this transparency push has resulted in a government’s bottom line going from a surplus to a shortfall thanks to the introduction of things like pension and retiree health benefit liabilities to annual balance sheets.

But some think governments are still leaving a few things off the ledger. Dag Detter and Stefan Folster, co-authors of the new book The Public Wealth of Cities , say localities are failing to realize the true value of the public assets they own, such as airports, convention centers, utilities and transit systems, just to name a few. “The public sector owns a lot of commercial assets,” says Detter, a Swedish investment advisor and expert on public commercial assets.

But, he adds, it doesn’t manage the risk of increased costs associated with those assets very well. Then, “the inclination is to give [management] away to the private sector,” he says. “But when you do that, you also have to give away the upside.”

Walters is after that most important, and often illusive, of economic questions: the nature and causes of the wealth of a community. Whereas Adam Smith focused his inquiry on the national community, Walters trains his analytical eye on the American city. A professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland, Walters is well equipped to pursue this question. He received his graduate education at UCLA, where the legendary economists Harold Demsetz and Armen Alchian taught the importance of institutions, particularly the institution of well-defined and well-protected property rights.

Boom Towns is primarily a policy book. While other scholars have blamed racism, greed, or even our love of cars for the decline of the city, Walters contends that the main culprit is bad policy. It wasn’t always the same policy everywhere. In places like Boston, property-tax hikes deserve most of the blame. In the rust-belt towns of the Midwest, the fault lies with policies that made it easier for unions to seize specialized physical capital and hold it hostage until their demands were met. In other places it was regulatory takings or eminent domain abuses.

According to Walters, the common thread in these failed policy experiments is a lack of respect for property rights. Wherever these are insecure, owners have little incentive to invest, productivity falls, and both capital and workers flee. Some of the most interesting passages of Boom Towns highlight the dynamic nature of this decline: Once a city begins to depopulate, its deterioration is self-reinforcing. As people and capital seek higher returns elsewhere, the economy stagnates and the tax base shrinks. This forces the city to either cut back on services, raise taxes, or both. This, in turn, causes more labor and capital to flee.

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The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

In the years since the Great Recession, there’s been a lot of effort made to ensure a government is sharing its complete fiscal picture. In many cases, this transparency push has resulted in a government’s bottom line going from a surplus to a shortfall thanks to the introduction of things like pension and retiree health benefit liabilities to annual balance sheets.

But some think governments are still leaving a few things off the ledger. Dag Detter and Stefan Folster, co-authors of the new book The Public Wealth of Cities , say localities are failing to realize the true value of the public assets they own, such as airports, convention centers, utilities and transit systems, just to name a few. “The public sector owns a lot of commercial assets,” says Detter, a Swedish investment advisor and expert on public commercial assets.

But, he adds, it doesn’t manage the risk of increased costs associated with those assets very well. Then, “the inclination is to give [management] away to the private sector,” he says. “But when you do that, you also have to give away the upside.”

Walters is after that most important, and often illusive, of economic questions: the nature and causes of the wealth of a community. Whereas Adam Smith focused his inquiry on the national community, Walters trains his analytical eye on the American city. A professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland, Walters is well equipped to pursue this question. He received his graduate education at UCLA, where the legendary economists Harold Demsetz and Armen Alchian taught the importance of institutions, particularly the institution of well-defined and well-protected property rights.

Boom Towns is primarily a policy book. While other scholars have blamed racism, greed, or even our love of cars for the decline of the city, Walters contends that the main culprit is bad policy. It wasn’t always the same policy everywhere. In places like Boston, property-tax hikes deserve most of the blame. In the rust-belt towns of the Midwest, the fault lies with policies that made it easier for unions to seize specialized physical capital and hold it hostage until their demands were met. In other places it was regulatory takings or eminent domain abuses.

According to Walters, the common thread in these failed policy experiments is a lack of respect for property rights. Wherever these are insecure, owners have little incentive to invest, productivity falls, and both capital and workers flee. Some of the most interesting passages of Boom Towns highlight the dynamic nature of this decline: Once a city begins to depopulate, its deterioration is self-reinforcing. As people and capital seek higher returns elsewhere, the economy stagnates and the tax base shrinks. This forces the city to either cut back on services, raise taxes, or both. This, in turn, causes more labor and capital to flee.



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