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5 Things: From Green Shoots to Growth in 60 Seconds?


IMF improves forecast for US economy, "retrofitting suburbia," a new spirit of sobriety, and much more.

1. IMF Raises Forecast for U.S. Economy

From "green shoots" to "solid recovery" in less than 60 weeks. That's the word from the International Monetary Fund, which today revised higher its forecast for the U.S. economy this year and next.

In April the IMF's "World Economic Outlook" projected a 2.8% contraction for the U.S. economy this year with no recovery in sight until the middle of 2010. That forecast was modified today, raised from a 2.8% contraction to a 2.5% contraction, while 2010's forecast for economic growth was increased from zero percent to .75%.

Why the good cheer? Simple: the conventional wisdom is that the monetarists have won. IMF Deputy Managing Director Lipsky heaped praise on the Federal Reserve, the Obama administration and Congress, according to Bloomberg, calling fiscal and economic stimulus "well targeted," and "now paying off."

Which would be great, if it were true. The IMF apparently didn't get last week's Federal Reserve Flow of Funds Report. Massive government spending isn't even keeping pace with the massive decline in private borrowing. Again, you can make credit available, but you can't make people take it.

2. The Socionomics of "Retrofitting Suburbia"

The New York Times Magazine on Sunday ran a fascinating piece on retail infrastructure and increasing vacancy. "America's retail infrastructure - its malls, supercenters, big boxes and other styles of store-clumping - [have] come to be characterized by rampant abundance." Now, rampant vacancy.

According to a recent book, "Retrofitting Suburbia," in 1986, the United States had approximately 15 square feet of retail space per person in shopping centers, the highest in the world at the time. By 2003 that had increased by a third to 20 square feet. The demise of many large chain retailers -- Circuit City and Linens 'n Things, to name but a few -- has emptied out a significant amount of that retail footage.

What is interesting to observe about the social mood shift now underway is how our attitudes toward consumption and retail are changing. According to the Times piece, "The more you learn about the vast expanses of built retail infrastructure -- active and inert -- the more you wonder whether, perhaps, enough is enough."

From more is more, to enough is enough.
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