Author Archives: larrylittlefield

About larrylittlefield

A blogger on state and local government and related issues in Brooklyn NY.

Social Security: The Democrats Join Generation Greed’s Theft of the Future From Less Well Off Later-Born Generations

Approximately eight years ago, I was outraged by a Republican proposal to address the oncoming insolvency of Social Security by cutting benefits, as Ben Smith, then at Politico but now at Buzzfeed, noted at the time.

It wasn’t that benefit cuts were proposed per se that outraged me. I am well aware that as a result of decades of self-serving actions by Generation Greed, the majority of whom voted Republican at the federal level to get one tax cut after another but also demanded even more benefits for themselves, people my age and younger would, on average, end up much worse off in old age, as the federal, state and local governments go broke. Worse off compared with what the “tax cut” “government shutdown” generations promised themselves but refused to pay for.  After all, our benefits have already been cut as part of the deal to “Save Social Security!” in 1983.  As a result those born in 1937 had a “full retirement age” of 65, compared with 67 for those my age and older, with retirement ages in between for those born in years in between.  Which really means that no matter when you start collecting between age 62 and 70, you will get less in monthly benefits than those in earlier generations who retired at the same time.

No, what outraged me is that the generations whose short-sighted, self-serving, entitled and hypocritical choices put us in this situation were proposed to be exempted from any and all of the sacrifices that their own choices have caused. As I said at the time:

I already know Paul Ryan and the Republicans are a fraud because no sacrifices will be imposed, and no changes will be required, for those age 55 and older. Which means those born in 1956 or earlier. Which means those who were 17 in 1973, the year wages peaked for most American workers. The richest generations in American history, the first to leave those coming after worse off in the private sector, the ones that created all those deficits and debts and unfunded pension obligations in the public sector, the ones who wanted more senior spending and less in taxes, Generation Greed, gives back nothing. And there is a barely an acknowledgement of what this means in a moral sense.

Eight years later, it is the Democrats who are making proposals with regard to the upcoming insolvency of Social Security.  So things must be different, right?

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Here Comes Freedom: A Super Bowl Post

In the Generation Greed era, the “what about my needs!” era, we are left to wonder if there are any prominent people left to admire.  Between the self-dealing and cynical games playing that dominate all levels of government, the scandals and deceit in business, the break-up of families (or their failure to form to begin with), the victimization of children by the clergy, the victimization of women exposed by the #MeToo movement, and the carrying on by many of those in the entertainment business, no wonder the overall trend in society is what it is.

Recently, however, I saw a video on YouTube about a professional athlete I admired as a teenager back in the 1970s.  Now near the end of his life, it appears he remained my kind of guy throughout it – in contrast with the majority of his contemporaries. After a month of trying to avoid the national news, with its incessant identity politics as a smokescreen for ever-increasing generational inequity, and having watched the Netflix Fyre Festival documentary, with its evidence of what many people believe constitutes a life well-lived, it was nice to watch the video linked below.  He was an NFL football player, and in this Super Bowl week I recommend it.

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Revitalizing Aging One-Family Neighborhoods With Flexibility

In my prior post, which should be read first, I noted that so-called “missing middle” housing, an affordable housing solution now being circulated as a way of getting around suburban exclusionary zoning impulses, has become increasingly desirable and expensive in booming older cities.  And that two of their desirable features were their presence in mixed-use neighborhoods, with a wide range of jobs, stores and services in walking distance, and their flexibility to be used in different ways over time – for one family homes, multi-family homes, or residential buildings with ground floor businesses, studios and offices.

But the “missing middle” argument is about the suburbs, not the cities.   Are their any places where suburbanites might consider allowing attached housing, multi-family housing, and business establishments into their exclusively one-family residential neighborhoods?   And is there any way that additional housing built there could actually be affordable (as opposed to merely subsidized), absent the economies of assembly-line production that developers enjoyed when middle class city and suburban neighborhoods were first built, including Brooklyn’s brownstones and the Long Island houses Brooklynites moved to two generations later?

I think so.  Faced with an inability to sell their houses due to the inability to attract the next generation of households, and the loss of their tax bases, some communities will look for alternatives.  Eventually the NIMBYs will be overcome.  It is already starting to happen.  And factory-built, three-story, standardized with options attached and semi-attached housing, with only the foundation, the façade, and the firebreak between attached houses built on site, could provide economies of scale for housing dropped just about anywhere, because the economies of scale would be at the factory.

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Flexibility and The Missing Middle

One of the ideas moving around city planning circles recently is the “missing middle,” a term coined by Daniel Parolek, an architect and urban planner in Berkeley, a few years ago.

For the past 70 years, it seems, zoning regulations, federal financing, institutional capital, and large real estate companies have combined to build either increasingly large detached single-family houses, or large apartment properties in tower or garden apartment configurations.  Whereas in pre-automobile cities and small towns housing types in between – rowhouses, two-, three- and four-family houses, and small apartment buildings with local small time owners, were more common.   The one-family rowhouses of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, the Brooklyn brownstones, and the New England triple deckers, large, detached, three-story houses with one unit per floor, are examples.

“It’s a range of housing types that are house-scale, that is very compatible with a house, but they happen to have multiple units inside of it,” Parolek says.  “Over the course of the last 20 years, there has been a dramatic shift in household demographics and every time we present these it shocks me a little bit.”  Detached, single family houses match the needs of married couples with children, but such households are now a small share of the total, whereas single family homes a majority of the housing stock.

Living in Brooklyn, I was not aware that the middle had gone missing, but thinking about it there is another aspect of pre-automobile development that was important.   Both the buildings and regulations (or lack of enforcement) allowed the way they were used to change over time.

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Sold Out Futures By State: English Version

The Intergenerational Foundation over in the U.K. asked if I could summarize my research on U.S. intergenerational burdens at the state and local government level in 700 words or so.  I somehow managed to squeeze a summary into about 1,700 words, which was subsequently modified for local spelling and syntax.   I generally don’t write posts that short because what is left is a series of statements without all the data, sources, evidence.  But if you are prepared to take my word for things and want my best effort of a brief summary of the situation, you might want to read this.

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Sold Out Futures by State: The Sold Out Future Ranking For FY 2016

Over the past three posts I’ve documented how today’s and tomorrow’s Americans have had their future sold out and cashed in with regard to state and local government debts, inadequate past infrastructure capital construction, and retroactively increased and underfunded public employee pensions. Over and above the generational inequities at the federal level in government, in the private sector, and even in many families.  Adding it up, on average today’s and tomorrow’s Americans have inherited a sold-out future due to past state and local government deals and non-decisions equal to 46.9% of their personal income in FY 2016. That is virtually unchanged from the 47.1% I found when I did the same analysis for FY 2012, despite a much stronger economy and another asset price bubble.  A mortgage at nearly half your income, my income, everyone’s income that will have to be carried indefinitely into the future, before any public services are provided, before any public benefits are paid, before taxpayers spend a nickel on their own needs.

Unlike the other generational inequities in our society in the wake of Generation Greed, the state and local government burden is greater or smaller depending on where you live.  It attaches to the people there now, unless they move away from it, and may eventually attach to each place’s real estate, since real estate cannot pick up and move.  This final post in the series will rank states, and New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, based on how sold out their futures are.

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Sold Out Futures By State: Public Employee Pensions in FY 2016

There was a time when a soaring stock market and zero percent interest rates, leading to soaring values of existing fixed-income investments, would have been enough to pull state and local government public employee pension funds out of the hole, at least by the (in my view false) measures used.  Today, however, that hole is so deep that for all state and local government pension funds in the U.S. combined, according to my estimate, later-born generations face a $3.5 trillion debt to pay for public employee pensions as of FY 2016, or 21.8% of the personal income of everyone in the United States.  Over and above any pension benefits that are being earned today. That exceeded the $3 trillion in formal state and local government bonded debt at the time.

More and more, various organizations are coming up with estimates of this combined debt burden, trying to predict which states and localities will be headed for bankruptcy, public service insolvency, or both.   Having pioneered this way of thinking nearly a decade ago with the first “Sold Out Future” ranking, let’s continue the analysis with regard to public employee pensions.

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