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Florida: Ponzi State

There is a great piece in this week’s New Yorker about how the economy has hit Florida especially hard (the full text is unfortunately only available through that stupid New Yorker reader thingy, though there is a little video explaining it). Florida, Packer explains, is an economy built almost exclusively on housing. The title of the article actually comes from a quote by a Florida professor: “Florida, in some ways, resembles a modern Ponzi scheme. Everything is fine for me if a thousand newcomers come tomorrow. The problem is, except for a few road bumps — ’72 and ’90, and they were really minor — no one knew what would happen if they stopped coming.” (Which, of course, they have now.)

The other great quote comes later on, as Packer explains just how deep Florida’s housing fascination went: “People who drew modest salaries at their jobs not only owned a house but bought other houses as speculators, the way average Americans elsewhere dabble in day trading.” He goes on to quote a real estate reporter who says, “There were secretaries with five to ten investment homes — a thirty-five-thousand-dollar salary and a million dollars in investments.”

February 9, 2009