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January 23, 2015


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You have three (3) minutes to write as much as possible.

Phxsunfan your posts on Whose Civics reminded me of

An accomplishment to be proud of. I'll read all these posts over the weekend.

I think the Rogue Columnist should be required reading for the Ducey administration, the Kookocracy, and real estate industrial complex.

Rouge. Thanks for the site. Relatively new visitor. Don’t agree with you on much of anything but find viewpoints educational. Ditto commenters; particularly the exasperating Soleri.

Al dente.

I read some of the old columns yesterday. Does anyone seriously dispute that Jon Talton is the most talented and prescient analyst Arizona has ever produced? Who else is there? No one comes close. The only real question is whether you should care or not, which is a serious question. Arizona will break your heart if you let it, so denial is not entirely a bad strategy.

I want to welcome back, belatedly, PhxSunsFan, who I've argued with fiercely over the years. He's smart, provocative, and - most impressively - a learner. Whether through an epiphany or a more gradual process, he gets the Phoenix Problem now. I'd like to ask him how because most people don't learn. They double down on what they know and shut out contradictory information. Did Talton's arguments levitate his thinking? I don't mean this to say "we were right. So there!". Rather, it's to suggest that the little we do here might have an impact we don't always appreciate.

PhxSunsFan and I also comment on another urban blog. 10 years ago, that blog was a libertarian paradise. It's not that the commenters hated cities so much as misunderstood the necessary acts of urban stewardship from historic preservation to zoning to good design. Today, they are a much smarter and critical lot. They used to disparage Talton quite a bit. Today, I think the attitude is much closer to growing respect.

You can never tell for sure how much impact your work has on the consciousness of your community. Maybe it's all haphazard and indecipherable. Maybe you just got "there" first and it took time for the others to catch up. But I like to think this blog made a difference, even if it can't be fully assessed. Talton's prophecy may not be one's cup of tea. It is, however, the fullest and most definitive one there is. We who love Arizona through bitter tears and self-exile count this as our spiritual home.

Congratulations and best wishes for many more years to come. You are needed and appreciated.

Thank you again for this important work Jon. I haven't had the time to participate lately but I still check Rogue almost daily for the columns, commentary, and article links - it's a resource I truly value.

I only wish I had discovered you many years ago instead of only a couple years ago. Having lived in Phoenix since 1961;when I read your Phoenix 101 and other articles, I wonder "how could I have missed all that".

I remember reading "Concrete Desert", just the title had me; it's so true. Then, David Mapstone and I have many things in common. I was hooked.

Thanks Jon for being there and doing what you do. You are a treasure.

I'm overjoyed we'll get to read more, even if I never graduate to "Phoenix 102." Here's to a future of educating me with pithy concepts like "Kookocracy," "WBIYB," and "championship golf."

This is a great blog. It's the only one I actively participate in and also the only one I habitually and regularly read. (I examine a wide variety of Internet sources, including blogs, when researching a topic, but none of them retains my attention as consistently as this one.)

I'm glad to see phxSUNSfan back. His comments are stimulating.

Jerry McKenzie wrote:

"Overall debt is increasing even tho annual budget deficits may decrease (or increase) from year-to-year."

True, but not in question.

"36% over four years is not an explosion in revenue in my opinion (what is that 6 to 8% annual?)."

Actually, in simple interest it's 10 percent a year ($2,163 billion to $3,002 billion over four years); but most of the growth in receipts occurred in just two years, from FY 2012 to FY 2014: from $2,450 billion to $3,002 billion); and that's an annual growth rate of 12 percent (simple interest). Growth from 2012 to 2013 alone was about 13.25 percent. That's significantly above the growth in receipts during the best of the Reagan years.

I don't think it's critical whether we call this an "explosion" or simply fast, healthy growth, as long as it's acknowledged that the decrease in the deficit resulted from an increase in federal receipts, and that Obama's tax increases obviously didn't prevent this and in fact contributed to the size of the growth in receipts.


P.S. That was forwarded from the previous thread.

To those concerned about the national debt:

(1) First, note that debt to the public, net of Federal Reserve debt, has actually declined as a percentage of GDP each year since FY 2012. In 2012 it was 58.9 percent of GDP; in 2013 it was 58.6 percent of GDP. It was still less in 2014.

Note that in 1946 this debt was 95.6 percent of GDP; the current level is nearly the same as in 1951 (58.4 percent of GDP), a year which no one would argue was a time of debt crisis.

Note that this huge WW II debt was never repaid: the government simply made sure that the debt grew slower than GDP, so that debt as a percentage of GDP became less and less, thus insuring that the burden to taxpayers (who had to foot the bill for interest payments on the debt) became less and less burdensome, as it became a smaller and smaller percentage of tax receipts.

So, if debt to the public net of Federal Reserve debt is shrinking as a percentage of GDP, and the level of this debt is the same as it was in 1951 at a time of economic prosperity and optimism, why the current hysteria over the debt?

The reason is a focus not on debt to the public but on the gross federal debt. The latter includes "debt to federal accounts", which isn't real debt at all but simply an accounting trick which reflects surplus receipts by federal trust funds. I'll explain this shortly.

Debt to federal accounts reached a low of 6.4 percent of GDP in 1982 and thereafter grew enormously: by 2010 it had reached a peak of 30.5 percent of GDP. This is no coincidence, for in 1983 President Reagan pushed through an increase in payroll taxes; and these FICA taxes fund the Social Security and Medicare "trust funds", among other federal accounts.

Suddenly, payroll taxes were bringing in more federal tax receipts than these social programs (Social Security and Medicare) were spending on benefits. This created an accounting surplus.

These trust funds thus became a cash cow, a kind of federal slush fund. The surpluses were spent on other budgetary items (most notably a run-up in military spending) and also used to partially offset the income tax cuts which Reagan had also pushed through, thus reducing their effect on the bottom line of the federal budget. In other words, the tax burden was shifted to an extent from income taxes (which are progressive) to payroll taxes (which are flat).

But the surpluses to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds were recorded as an increase in debt to federal accounts, in an accounting trick. Note that this latter "debt" is the merest smoke and mirrors: it is not debt by private definitions of debt: it does not reflect any obligations of the federal government whatsoever, since Congress can change (and has changed) the formulas determining benefit payments.

So, a large part of the run up of the gross federal debt has come from these surpluses in Social Security and Medicare receipts, which were recorded as debt to federal accounts.

These surpluses are now at an end, which is why debt to federal accounts as a percentage of GDP has actually shrunk in recent years and is projected to continue to shrink.

The Chicken Little brigade simply doesn't grasp the details of federal debt accounting which explain this. To be fair, it isn't their fault: neither party has an interest in explaining this to them. I suspect that many ordinary politicians in both parties have no better grasp of this than the public at large. The committee members who do grasp such things have no interest in educating the public, or their colleagues, for reasons which vary by party.

The Republicans and libertarian conservatives want to cut social spending and the gross federal debt is the tool by which they whip up popular anxiety about the debt, which is used argue for cuts in social spending.

The Democrats (and also the Republicans) don't want to get into a debate about debt which explicitly points out the illusory nature of the federal "trust funds" in large and popular programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Now, it's true that as the baby boomer generation ages and retires, payroll tax receipts have a smaller base and that in future decades this is expected to put fiscal pressure on the federal budget.

But this can be remedied by a variety of means, including the increasing of general federal receipts by means of income tax increases at the top end (and on capital gains taxes for the top end). A transaction tax on stock trades by large speculators is another possible source of revenue.

Federal funds are fungible, which means that it doesn't matter where they come from, as long as the deficit is kept under control and debt shrinks (or at least doesn't grow in the long run) as a percentage of GDP.

Of course, such fiscal pressures could also be dealt with by means of benefit cuts, or by means of increases in payroll taxes, which is no doubt what most Republicans and conservative Democrats would like to see.

For the figures, see Table 7.1 in Section 7, here:


Thanks Rogue! Keep the columns coming and conversations going.

I'm late to the party, but I would also like to thank Rogue Columnist for his commitment to writing important and often unpopular topics. Phoenix needs individuals like Jon Talton to continue challenging the status quo and the inertia that keeps the core of the nation's 6th largest city in its diminished state.

When I have a little more time I will reply to Soleri's question in depth. In short, I think that my continuing education and my travels abroad have required me to evaluate and consider things more carefully. I've had the chance to live in dynamic cities and I have been able to compare places over time and what I value. I believe that, for better or worse, people do come to Phoenix and see a clean slate. Many come with ideas and hope to see their (urban) communities flourish. I emphasized urban because most suburban landscapes are not loved and are not valued in the long-term. They are utilized. Outside of Tempe, and a very skeptical maybe when considering Old Town Scottsdale, you don't find individuals truly invested in their communities. The most obvious reason being that it is nearly impossible to fall in love with monotony. If your neighborhood in Avondale looks like the one in Chandler how do you built a unique community that stakeholders care about?

Ironically, it is because of these suburbs that so many obstacles are stacked against Central Phoenix. Effective changes and the rebuilding of the core require considerably more effort compared to many peer cities. This is put into focus when comparing Phoenix to cities that were large before city planners abandoned human-scaled development in favor of automobile-scaled development.

Phoenicians need City Hall to play hardball with the surrounding suburbs. This does not require throwing money at developers and in no way does this mean fighting the suburbs for new "retail destinations" like Kierland and Scottsdale Quarter (they are strip malls beneath the surface anyway). Instead, Phoenix needs to create new bones. We cannot replace the lost, old bones but they can serve as templates. For instance, Phoenix needs to go on a serious road diet throughout the Central City. Installing dedicated bus and bike lanes would help create new bones that are valued in modern, urban places. The city should not fund and contribute to infrastructure in pristine desert for the "north valley". If suburbanites must have it, let them pay the for the hidden costs of sprawl.

The city needs to reestablish the streetcar system, strengthen the transit partnership with Tempe and Mesa (and cities willing to invest in the future), and create a reliable transit system with different modes of transportation. Parks need to be funded and cared for and must be green (trees/grass not rocks and concrete) in order for them to be cherished and utilized. This is something that Rogue has mentioned time and again when reminding us that Phoenix needs to remain an oasis. Parks and public places are so important as they allow us to connect with our communities.

I don't think it is too late for Phoenix but time is not on our side. What is being developed is a mixed bag in terms of being automobile or human-scaled. The University of Arizona-Phoenix campus turns its backside to 7th Ave and has too many copper boxes. Too many parking garages are being built and too little attention is being paid to how a building interacts with the neighborhood. The city cannot afford to allow anymore above ground parking. The opportunity costs are too great.

ASU Downtown inspires a little more hope. All of the new buildings, including the resident halls, were built with no dedicated parking. What I gather from renderings of the new law school building is that the plazas and public spaces face the street (although 2 levels of underground parking were built). Downtown needs more employers and more residents. Residential develop moves at a snails place in the core.

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