What Puerto Rico Does and Does Not Need

New York City officials concerned about the disaster in Puerto Rico are making a big mistake.


“Items that are needed the most are batteries, diapers, first aid supplies, and feminine hygiene products.”

The people may need those items, but the worst thing New Yorkers can do is donate them. Relief agencies have warehouses full of low-value items they cannot afford to transport to far-off destinations. And those that get there have the effect of preventing the local economy from re-starting. While the distribution system may have broken down, relief agencies trying to use expensive airplanes to move low value supplies would have to use those same roads.

What people need is cash, in small denominations, to buy what they in fact need, and get jobs getting them to where they are needed in the most efficient possible way. The problem with cash is it can be siphoned off by the corrupt. That just means people need someone they can trust to hand out tens and twenties. True of Harvey and Houston.


True of Puerto Rico.

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Term Limits: Impact on the Characteristics of NYC Representatives

As noted in the prior post in this series, New York City is a double-blind test of the effect on term limits on democracy. Since 1993 the city has represented by term-limited members of the New York City Council, and by unlimited members of the New York State Legislature. The dominant political party, other election laws, and the voting population are the same in each case. One result, as identified in the prior post in this series, which should be read first, is more contested elections for City Council relative to the New York State legislature, which seldom has any.


In this post I compare selected characteristics of the NYC officeholders in these governing bodies with each other and, in some cases, the population of the city at large. Their race and Hispanic origin. Their sex (male vs. female). Their place of birth. Their age/date of birth/generation. The year when they were first elected to their current position. And their prior job. I don’t usually pay too much attention to New York City’s elected legislative representatives, other than show up every year to vote against the incumbents in my district, so all this information was new to me. Some of it is what I would have expected, but some of it is not.

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Median Household Income: It Takes Five Minutes to See Beyond the Happy Horseshit

American Community Survey data was released for 2016 yesterday, and the news was reportedly good.


The incomes of middle-class Americans rose last year to the highest level ever recorded by the Census Bureau, as poverty declined and the scars of the past decade’s Great Recession seemed to finally fade. Median household income rose to $59,039 in 2016, a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year and the second consecutive year of healthy gains, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

While it is not a surprise that income is rising in an economic upturn, the claim is that this is more than a cyclical increase in income – even though wages are not rising.

The income increase extended to almost every demographic group, Census Bureau officials said. The figure the agency reported Tuesday was the highest on record. The agency reports that in 1999, median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $58,655.

Really? I immediately went to American Factfinder


And downloaded median household income for 2016 and 2006, a year at a similar point in the economic cycle. Adjusting the latter into 2016 dollars for an inflation-adjusted comparison. Downloaded it by age of householder. And found almost exactly what I expected.

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Term Limits: New York City’s Double-Blind Test of Democracy

In 1989 a new New York City Charter, developed by the equivalent of a state constitutional convention in response to a court decision invalidating the old Board of Estimate, gave city voters the power of initiative and referendum. The power to directly enact local laws that their representatives were unwilling to enact for them. That power has been used only once in the 28 years it has been in force – in 1993, to enact term limits for city officeholders. Since term limits are one thing the people are almost all in favor of, and politicians are almost all opposed to.


That initiative and referendum has created a double-blind test of democracy in New York City, an experiment that no one knew they were participating in when term limits were enacted. Because today, New York City residents are represented (or not) by two sets of non-federal legislative representatives.   The 51 members of the New York City Council, who have turned over twice or more due to term limits. And its 91 member of the New York State legislature, with 26 State Senators and 65 members of the State Assembly. As we look toward a constitutionally-mandated November referendum on a possible New York State Constitutional Convention, something the entire New York State political class and its funders is opposed to and which basically seems to be hushed up, it is time to examine the results of this experiment. Because based on history, unless the powers that be manage to control the constitutional convention, term limits for state politicians is one provision that it might very well place before the voters for approval, and that those voters would almost certainly approve.

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Brooklyn’s Business Boom: Industrial Sectors

Suddenly, the hottest type of commercial real estate in the United States isn’t office buildings, or shopping centers, or apartments. It is industrial buildings – simple boxes, preferably as large and high-ceilinged and with as many truck loading docks as possible. And this isn’t because manufacturing is returning from overseas and “making America great again.” It is because distribution and logistics, the business of moving goods from producers to consumers as efficiently as possible, has been one of the two sectors with significant investment, innovation and productivity gains during the past two decades, along with information technology.   (Education and health care have had a high level of investment, but without productivity gains in health care and without either innovation or productivity gains in education).

In the 2000s the innovation was super-efficient mega-warehouses serving large regions, with containers off ships and trains, reorganized into tractor-trailer-sized loads of pallets of goods with electronic and barcode tags, destined for big-box stores. The supply chain is so efficient that I am often amazed that the things I buy can be brought to me so for so cheap, even if the Chinese are producing it for free. For the Northeast, Eastern Pennsylvania and Central and Southern New Jersey has emerged as THE industrial center. This era corresponded with many of the final legacy operations, such was the warehouse serving Key Food, moving out of Brooklyn. The latest shift, just happening now, is being driven by one company, Amazon.com, and its growing legion of imitators. That shift has yet to really reach Brooklyn, but the rest of this post uses ZipBusiness Patterns data to show what the industrial trend was in that borough as of 2015 as compared with 2005.

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Brooklyn’s Business Boom: Retail and Other Consumer-Driven Sectors

In the previous post, which should be read first, I chronicled the location of and trends in Brooklyn’s office-based businesses. This post is about consumer-driven businesses. How hard is it to know the future? Consider the 1958 report from consulting firm Voorhees Walker Smith & Smith, Zoning New York City, which formed the basis of New York City’s current zoning resolution, passed in 1961.


Page 11. The growth of the supermarket has plainly reduced the role of the neighborhood food store. The efficiency of the large supermarket is such that a given volume of sales can be handled with sharply lower frontage requirements and, even allowing for parking areas, with appreciably lower land requirements…Simultaneously with the growth of the supermarket has appeared the integrated shopping center, ranging in scale from neighborhood units of ten stores to gigantic complexes with department stores and chain store branches. Since the main attribute of the shopping center is one-stop shopping for the automobile customer, the radius of retail trade areas has dramatically increased.

It is now a commonplace that both the downtown shopping district and the local string street have been adversely affected by these innovations in retail trade (resulting in) the excessive amount of retail frontage in the numerous strip developments of the city. A survey of frontages in sixteen shopping districts in widely scattered parts of the city indicated an average retail vacancy rate of nine percent, with an additional six percent of store frontage occupied by non-retail uses.

It is now 59 years later, and as a result of additional innovations in retail trade, the entire economic structure described by Voorhees Walker Smith & Smith is collapsing in suburban and Sunbelt America, as the strip districts of Brooklyn boom.

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Brooklyn’s Business Boom: Office

Brooklyn is one of the epicenters of the new, youth-driven economy. Employment, and the number of employed and self-employed workers, have soared, but the number of poor people living in the borough has also increased, and its average income remains far below the U.S. average.

Brooklyn’s economic base has long consisted of two things, commuting to Manhattan and bringing back money to be spent in the local consumer economy, and something else. That something else was once agriculture, and then manufacturing and the city’s seaport. With the city’s economic collapse in the 1970s, that something else was largely public assistance and government-funded health care and social services, which dominated the borough’s employment. The borough even lost a great deal of its local consumer-driven business activity, due to its falling relative income and the custom of its better off residents choosing to drive elsewhere to go shopping. Today, however, there is something of a turnaround, both in the economic base in the consumer economy. But where is it concentrated, and why? I had my daughter create some maps of data by zip code using GIS program CartoDB to find out. This post is about office-based businesses, and another will follow.

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