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July 1 2015 3:11 PM

Amazon Gives Up Trying to Seduce Luxury Brands

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Amazon has changed its mind about being a luxury retailer. The massive e-commerce company is saying it no longer is focusing on courting luxury brands, Jennie Perry, chief marketing officer of Amazon's fashion division, told Business of Fashion.

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"There has been lot of speculation on us entering the luxury market and that is just not something that we’re focused on right now," Perry said. "What we are focused on is developing an experience for our large customer base. That customer seems to have a great appetite for many things." 

Instead, the company has secured partnership brands mid-tier brands such as Lacoste and Theory, reports Business of Fashion. The fashion site also notes Amazon is focusing on enhancing the user experience, as Amazon's front-end is not tailored to suit selling high fashion products.

For years, the brand has worked arduously to gain a credible reputation within the fashion industry. In 2012, the massive e-commerce company set up a warehouse for photography in the trendy neighborhood Williamsburg in Brooklyn, hoping to woo luxury fashion companies and their loyal followers. With Cathy Beaudoin as president of Amazon's fashion division at the helm, this has been an apparent part of its mission.

Luxury brands, however, have not been intrigued. "Amazon will never sell Louis Vuitton, because we are the only ones that sell it," Louis Vuitton chief executive Yves Carcelle told Vogue UK in 2012. "This is a model of direct control that we pioneered, and I think long term it is the direction that most luxury ecommerce will take."

Now it seems that Amazon is finally getting the message. The brand is still attempting to put itself front and center in the fashion world as a part of its slow climb up the fashion ladder. The company is sponsoring the first-ever New York Men's Fashion Week, WWD reported earlier this year. 

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June 30 2015 3:06 PM

Burger King Wants to Make the Veggie Burger a Global Hit

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Burger King wants to start selling veggie burgers worldwide.

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The fast-food chain introduced a special line of six meatless burgers last year in India, including a Veggie Whopper, a Spicy Bean Royale, and a vegetarian chili cheese melt. The sandwiches have been so successful that the chain is now considering launching them in other vegetarian-friendly markets, according to Burger King India CEO Raj Varman.

"Looking at the response here, the global management is evaluating introducing some of these options going forward to other vegetarian-friendly markets like the UK," Varman told the India news agency PTI, according to the Economic Times.

McDonald's, which also offers vegetarian options in India, has tried launching meatless burgers in the U.S. on numerous occasions without success, CEO Don Thompson told investors in 2011. "We ended up serving four a day," Thompson said.

Despite the failures of McDonald's, adding a meatless menu in markets such as the U.K. and the U.S. could be a smart move for Burger King. Vegetarianism is on the rise, and a growing number of people are defining themselves as "flexitarians," which means they eat a primarily plant-based diet supplemented by occasional meat consumption.

Sales of meat alternatives in the U.S. rose to $553 million in 2012, up from $513 million two years earlier, according to the market-research firm Mintel. Meanwhile, Americans' per capita consumption of meat and poultry has declined by more than 9 percent since 2007, to an estimated 200.8 pounds in 2014 from 221.6 pounds in 2007, according to the USDA.

And vegetarian menu options attract more than just customers who don't eat meat. They also increase the likelihood that meat-eating customers will visit a restaurant, according to Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic.

"If options like a veggie burger exists, it reduces the veto vote and gives everyone in the party a chance to order what they want," Tristano told Businessweek.

Burger King already offers a veggie burger in the U.S., but it's made with a MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Patty, which anyone can buy in the freezer aisle of most grocery stores.

Burger King India's vegetarian menu offers many more sandwich options, as well as vegetable-based snacks, such as Vegetable Chili Cheezos (fried bites of cheese and vegetables with paprika) and Veggie Strips (fried strips with a vegetable filling of corn, green peas, and carrots).

June 29 2015 6:21 PM

Lego Gets Feminist With Its New Line of Characters

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Women aren't entering fields of science and math in large numbers, so Lego is encouraging them on the minifig scale.

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The trend of men dominating science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines has been omnipresent in the U.S., but not for any biological reason, many experts say. Most girls just aren't pushed in that direction. Now the world's largest toy company wants to offer a gentle nudge, Maia Weinstock reports in Scientific American.

Last year, Lego released a massively popular line of female scientist minifigures, or "minifigs," those modular yellow characters the company is known for. The idea was born on the Lego Ideas site, where fans can nominate new product lines that Lego considers if an idea amasses at least 10,000 supporters. The end result was Research Institute, a trio comprised of a chemist, a paleontologist, and an astronomer. 

The company's new line of minifigs, released this month, includes female veterinarians, deep sea explorers, aerospace engineers, mechanics, and pit crew members.

Take this rough and tumble Dune Buggy operator, for example.

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LEGO

Lego is also branching out into the grease monkey sector with a minifig of the McLaren/Mercedes Lego pit crew.

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LEGO

A denim vest isn't exactly common work attire for medical doctors, but the veterinarian minifig is still a solid win for veterinary science.

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LEGO

Then there is the Lego deep sea explorer, reminiscent of famed marine biologist Sylvia Earle.

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LEGO

Lego Ideas is also working on a minifig version of the cast of The Big Bang Theory, in which two of the main characters are scientists, one a microbiologist and the other a neuroscientist.

The design will be available for purchase on Aug. 1.

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LEGO

Admittedly, Lego still has a long way to go before achieving total minifig gender equality. While the company does produce more female characters overall, they're typically confined to non-professional personas, such as Lego's line of Friends minifigs. 

The open democracy of Lego Ideas could pick up the slack.

Among the nominated entries are:

  • The 19th-century computing pioneers Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage 
  • Noted geologist Circe Verba, depicted conducting research in both the lab and field
  • Several of history's famed female scientists: paleontologist Mary Anning, x-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, physicist Lise Meitner, and physicist Marie Curie

June 26 2015 2:16 PM

Will the Next iPhone Get a Major Camera Revamp?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Ever since Apple bought Israel-based camera company LinX for an estimated $20 million in April, there's been some speculation that the company could be working on a dual camera for the next iPhone.

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Now, a new report from Taiwanese publication Business Weekly claims that Apple has at least been experimenting with ways to fit more than one camera lens into the iPhone. The report says that Apple has been working with dual camera lenses for the iPhone for three years. But it's never actually implemented this technology in any products because it's been facing some technical issues, reports Business Weekly

First, the report indicates that Apple's early tests with dual lens cameras resulted in blurry images. Second, the report claims that Apple hasn't been able to find a manufacturer capable of building enough camera modules in the allotted time.

Now, however, Business Weekly reports that LinX's technology will be able to help Apple solve that blurry image issue. And, Apple is also said to be working with Largan Precision Co., a company that supplies camera lens modules for computers and mobile devices. This could help the company produce the necessary number of components needed to actually add a dual camera to its products.

It's worth noting that the HTC One M8 already has a dual camera, which allows the phone to capture images with 3-D effects.

It's unclear what Apple would plan to use the technology for, but a note from the analysts at Macquarie provided some insight about how the company could improve the iPhone's camera. 

The firm looked at what LinX succeeds at in terms of camera technology and applied that to the iPhone, writing the following (emphasis is our own):

LinX is an Israeli CCM maker with leading technologies in multiple sensors, which provides better performance in terms of low light shooting, HDR, refocusing, color fidelity, and shutter lag...Apple should be able to reduce the height of CCM by replacing one large sensor with multiple smaller ones (so no more protruding cameras), reduce noise, improve sensitivity and sharpness in a low-light environment, and enable 3-D object modeling

We won't know what Apple has in store for its next iPhone until it officially unveils it, which will likely happen in September. But, one of the most persistent rumors around the phone, which is rumored to be called the iPhone 6s or iPhone 7, is that Apple is planning some major camera upgrades. 

June 25 2015 12:33 PM

Taylor Swift Agrees to Put Her Latest Album on Apple Music

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Taylor Swift is officially putting her wildly popular "1989" album on Apple Music, the singer announced via tweet Thursday. 

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"After the events of this week, I've decided to put 1989 on Apple Music... and happily so," she posted.

Swift has been heralded with convincing Apple to change its policy around the new streaming service. Originally, Apple wasn't going to pay musicians any royalties during its three-month free trial period. But after the singer wrote a furious Tumblr post calling Apple's decision "shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company," Apple changed its mind. 

"Apple Music will pay artists for streaming even during customers' free trial period," company SVP Eddy Cue tweeted Sunday night. "We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple."

Although Swift said she was "elated and relieved" upon Cue's announcement, this is the first confirmation that her own music will be available.  

However, Swift contends that she won't be entering into any exclusive contracts with Apple. The company has made it clear that it plans to use exclusive content as a way to draw people into the service, but has so far only announced a single Pharrell song in its roster.   

Swift may not be signing herself into exclusivity, but it doesn't sound like she'll be putting the album on Spotify. Last year, Swift snubbed the service, declaring that Spotify's free tier "devalued music" and didn't give a big enough cut to artists

"This is simply the first time it's felt right in my cut to stream my album," she tweeted.

The service launches June 30—every potential customer receives a three-month free trial before paying $9.99 a month.

June 24 2015 3:23 PM

Despite 11th-Hour Rescue, Sweet Briar College’s Troubles Are Far From Over

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

As the dust has settled on the 11th-hour deal that will hopefully keep Sweet Briar College alive for at least another year, it's become clear that the college's supporters are not out of the woods yet.

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When Sweet Briar's leadership announced in March that the 114-year-old women's college would shut its doors for good this summer, a number of immediate problems plaguing the school came to the surface. Those problems included declining enrollment trends and a shrinking endowment that, while still sizable, seemed unable to sustain.

As part of the deal to save Sweet Briar, the school's old leaders will leave the college. But now their replacements are left with some tough choices.

In an essay at Inside Higher EdAlice Brown, president emerita of the Appalachian College Association, notes that some of the aspects that made Sweet Briar so attractive to potential students—and so meaningful to the alumnae who raised millions of dollars to save it are also a major financial burden on the college.

“Will the college keep its 54 horses, costing $27,000 a month in food and $36,500 a month for care? Will it find the $28 million needed for deferred maintenance on its once grand buildings? Will the student-faculty ratio become higher than eight to one?” Brown asks.

The college's small class sizes are a serious drain on its finances that might not be immediately evident to outside observers.

“Sweet Briar’s model of providing highly personalized education with small class sizes is expensive, as indicated by educational expenses per student of approximately $42,000,” according to a recent Moody's report on the college.

Sweet Briar could cut costs by offering online courses, a prospect that the college has rejected in the past. Brown, in her IHE essay, points out a 2011 article in a campus publication that asked the question, “Should Sweet Briar Offer Online Education?” The answer, from students and administrators, seemed to be a resounding “no.”

“Sweet Briar is a traditional residential liberal arts college. We don't have any need to do business with online classes. The education would not be the same, especially for foreign language students. The isolation that online classes create also collides with the teaching philosophy of Sweet Briar which is to provide education in small, discussion based classes in an intimate and strong community,” Sweet Briar's registrar, Deborah Powell, said, according to the campus publication.

This view may have been shortsighted. As Brown argues, “The reality is that education at Sweet Briar is not the same it once was, and it is likely to move even farther away from that utopian state.”

In a separate essay at IHE, Joshua Kim, the Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, outlines the direct benefits of online education for the struggling liberal arts college.

“The reason to develop a blended / low-residency / online strategy is that such a strategy is the only way to ensure long-term economic sustainability,” Kim writes. “Providing other learning options beyond only face-to-face will both benefit existing students, make enrolling in Sweet Briar more attractive, and open the door to new programs and new students.”

Outside of the classroom experience, one of Sweet Briar's calling cards has been its undeniably stunning campus, which encompasses 3,250 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Educationincoming Sweet Briar President Phillip C. Stone cites the school's surroundings as one of the most “attractive features” for potential students.

“The beautiful, parklike grounds, the ability to study in such a serene, pastoral environment — we want to talk about these as positives,” Stone said.

The fate of this campus, though, will likely be decided in the upcoming months and years. While 27 acres of Sweet Briar's campus are a historic district—along with 21 of its buildings—the remaining thousands of acres could be part of the key to keeping the college open for the future.

“The possibility of creating a planned residential and/or commercial community on property owned by Sweet Briar College is significant and could result in substantial sums to the College,” according to John W. Gibb, the managing director of a higher education and real estate financial firm and former chairman of the Wilson College Board of Trustees. Gibbs shared this view in a statement supporting one of the lawsuits against the college.

The college's upcoming leadership will almost certainly consider developing Sweet Briar's campus. Gen. Charles C. Krulak, a former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and current president of Birmingham-Southern College, made a similar argument in a separate statement attached to the lawsuit. He's now tapped to be a new member of Sweet Briar's board.

While potential changes that could affect Sweet Briar's culture may be unpopular, they may also be necessary.

"Nostalgia is no substitute for a sound financial plan," a former board member of three private colleges told IHE.

Unfortunately for Stone and the new Sweet Briar board, the school needs continued alumnae support and donations to survive in the long run. Even if Sweet Briar maintains enough of the college's original allure to entice alumnae to give, there is a lingering concern that funds have been "tapped out" in the recent push that ended up raising millions of dollars in pledges.

“Once you say that out of passion you're going to make the most generous, sacrificial gift I can make, it's pretty hard to keep doing that year after year,” Stone told the Chronicle. “So we'll have to work at that, and it will be hard to sustain it.”

This could be even harder than Stone anticipates, as any shift that Sweet Briar makes may, paradoxically, end up isolating the very people who worked tirelessly the past few months to save the school.

"One issue that might present difficulties for any development office is that of gathering donations to make the college an institution of the 21st century when most of those being solicited graduated during the 20th century and want the college to preserve the culture it once enjoyed," Brown writes.

While Brown notes this is an issue affecting pretty much any college, the significant changes likely needed at Sweet Briar could seriously change the character of the school.

June 23 2015 2:59 PM

Who Wants a Free House in Italy?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Want a free house?

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The Sicilian town of Gangi, tucked away in the central part of the country, needs newcomers to replace its vanishing populace. So the local government has decided to offer up vacant homes to businesses that want to spruce up the area with hotels and individuals looking for a European fixer-upper.

In a 102-word release, Gangi—local population: 7,000—curtly explained the terms of the deal. “Those who will be assigned the free houses have to bear the expenses for the transfer of ownership,” the release explains.

In other words, it's your problem now. The formal requirements stipulate that new owners must present plans for renovation within one year of purchase and complete those renovations within three years. The fixes won't be quick. Many of the Gangi homes are dilapidated, not having seen any human attention in decades. Still, international attention has been arriving faster than the government can give the houses away.

Some of the abodes have already been bestowed to Sicilians in search of second homes and foreigners looking to add to their collection. There are 200 houses left and a waiting list that isn't getting any shorter.

Gangi's decision to surrender its homes comes after several decades of people uprooting their lives in Sicily to live out American dreams and, later, South American dreams, Marcello Saija, the director of a network of emigration museums in Sicily, told the New York Times.

Between 1892 and 1924, roughly 1,700 immigrants from Gangi landed in Ellis Island. By the 1930s and 1940s, New York had been usurped by Argentina as the hot spot for a new life.

With increasing buzz for the houses, City Hall has the luxury of being selective. If you're looking for a summer home, you might be out of luck.

“We don’t want people just because they have money,” Gangi mayor Giuseppe Ferrarello told the Times, adding that preference will be given to applicants whose goal is to improve not just a house, but Gangi as a whole.

The city isn't the first to employ the new strategy. Stateside, small towns like Gary, Indiana, and larger cities like Indianapolis and Detroit have put their displaced homes up for cheap, either giving them away for $1 or offering them outright.*

*Correction, June 23, 2015: This post originally misspelled Indianapolis.

June 22 2015 1:27 PM

Sweet Briar College Just Got a One-Year Stay of Execution

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

An agreement reached this weekend to keep an embattled Virginia college open for at least one more year seems to confirm accusations leveled at the school's leadership over the past few months—in short, that Sweet Briar College's leadership didn't do enough to save the college.

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A local court on Monday approved the deal reached between the school's leadership, activist alumnae, and Virginia's attorney general. Sweet Briar—whose leadership announced in March that the 114-year-old all-women's college would close this summer—will receive an infusion of at least $12 million raised by an alumnae group called “Saving Sweet Briar.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring will also unlock $16 million from the college's endowment to be used for operating costs over the next year.

Perhaps most significantly for the long-term future of the school, the agreement also stipulates that the majority of the board will step down, as will Sweet Briar President James F. Jones. The college's leadership had attributed the decision to close to “insurmountable financial challenges,” tied mostly to supposed declining enrollment trends that have been questioned by those fighting to keep Sweet Briar open.

By all appearances, this is an 11th-hour deal in the truest sense. A lawsuit against the college was set to go before a local judge on Monday and, according to local news reports, it did not look promising for Sweet Briar's leadership.

“Technically, the court didn't tell Sweet Briar to stay open, although it became very clear last week that a fed-up Bedford County Circuit Court Judge Jim Updike was prepared to do just that. His stern warning last Tuesday that he was prepared to hold a hearing today and he didn't care whether the lawyers showed up or not, is, we're told, part of what spurred along the mediated settlement,” the Roanoke Times wrote in an editorial on Monday.

As local Lynchburg*, Virginia, newspaper the News & Advance noted in an editorial on Sunday, it's become clear over the past few months that more could have been done to combat Sweet Briar's financial troubles:

Yes, enrollment had been declining, but ... the college had had no fulltime dean of admissions for more than two years.
Yes, fundraising had slowed, but ... the college had had no fulltime director of development or director of marketing for more than two years.
Yes, the endowment was on the small side, but ... the college had not had a major, capital drive since 2006 when, by the way, more than $100 million had been raised.
One financial analysis after another, done by and for those working to save the college, made clear the fiscal challenges the institution faces, but not one reached the conclusion that closure was the only option.

In a statement released Saturday after the agreement was announced, the college's outgoing leadership wrote that they were “pleased the College’s financial situation has dramatically changed to avoid closing.” However, judging from past remarks, it's unlikely that Sweet Briar's board and president would have resigned voluntarily.

“A change in the college's leadership will not change Sweet Briar's insurmountable financial, recruitment and operational challenges. It would instead further destabilize an already fragile situation,” the college said in a statement in March. “While we believe the group trying to prevent closure is well-intentioned, its desired outcome, should it be realized, would have far-reaching and negative consequences for the college's students, faculty and staff.”

We've reached out to Sweet Briar to clarify this statement in light of this weekend's agreement.

There is little precedent for what happened over the past few months with Sweet Briar, except for one decades-old case concerning another failing all-women's college that was slated to close.

In 1979, the board of 100-year-old Wilson College voted to close the school, even though the school still had hundreds of students and a not-insignificant endowment. However, alumnae sued and won after a judge ruled the board hadn't done enough to try to save the school.

Virginia Judge John Keller “did not find any malfeasance among trustees and administration, only ineptness and inaction,” Fred M. Hechinger wrote in 1979 in the New York Times. Basically, the college only stopped operating because the board of trustees decided to shut down.

As part of his ruling, Keller ordered Wilson's president to step down, and the board quickly followed.

The deal announced on Saturday doesn't seem to be that different from what a victory for the college's supporters would have looked like. Jones and the board are stepping down, the school is receiving millions of dollars from new donations and unlocked endowment funds. Most importantly, Sweet Briar is staying open.

It's clear now that more could have been done to keep Sweet Briar alive.

*Correction, June 23, 2015: This article originally misspelled the name of Lynchburg, Virginia.

June 19 2015 4:35 PM

Streamers Gonna Stream—Just Not Taylor Swift’s Latest Album on Apple Music

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Taylor Swift just snubbed Apple: BuzzFeed News is reporting that the singer is refusing to put her most recent album, 1989, on the company's upcoming music streaming service.

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Taylor Swift has previously been an outspoken critic of free music streaming. She argues that it devalues artists' work, and she removed 1989 from market-leader Spotify late last year following a dispute over its free, ad-supported tier.

However, it had previously been thought that Swift's album would be available on Apple Music, which is due to launch on June 30. During the service's announcement, a link to her most recent video, "Bad Blood," appeared on screen—implying that Apple had secured the rights to her recent catalog. But clearly that's not the case.

A representative for Swift's label, Big Machine, told BuzzFeed News that there "are currently no plans to release 1989 to any streaming service in the near future." Apple also confirmed that the album would not be present at launch. (Taylor Swift's older albums will be available on the platform, however.)

This matters more than you might think. Apple is entering the music-streaming race very late and partly out of necessity. While it has long dominated the music-download market via iTunes, downloads are now in decline. And rival Spotify has managed to gain a staggering 86 percent of the on-demand-streaming market. Apple needs to launch Apple Music to remain relevant in the music industry (which is also why it is launching on Android and Windows, to ensure the maximum possible number of users).

Despite Spotify's dominance of music streaming, concerns have grown among artists about its revenue model, including the allegedly small amounts it pays out to rights holders. Had Apple managed to secure Taylor Swift, it would have sent a strong signal that it had managed to allay industry concerns—and give consumers a compelling reason to pick Apple Music over the alternatives.

According to the Verge, the Beatles are another high-profile band that have refused to put their albums on Apple Music.

Ahead of its big launch, Apple is apparently playing hardball with artists. Brian Jonestown Massacre front man Anton Newcombe claims that the company is threatening to pull his entire back catalog from iTunes if he doesn't agree to forgo royalties during a three-month trial period Apple is due to offer consumers, Consequence of Sound reports. (Apple has since denied threatening to remove Newcombe's music.)

This plan to not pay royalties during the trial period has reportedly infuriated artists. According to U.K. music lobbyist Andy Heath, no independent British labels have so far agreed to let their music be used in the trial—threatening to kneecap the music selection available to consumers during that first crucial period.

June 17 2015 4:53 PM

Should Countries Reduce Their Debt by Monetizing Their Parks?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

With so many nations unable to balance their budgets and government spending through the roof, it's no surprise that the world has amassed about $54 trillion in total global public debt. But did you know that governments around the world also hold more than $75 trillion of public assets?

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In nearly every country, the largest holder of wealth is not a large corporation or someone like Bill Gates, but the assets collectively held by the public. In their new book, titled The Public Wealth of Nations, Dag Detter and Stefan Fölster argue that better management of these enormous assets could drastically improve the economic well-being of nations, raising productivity and living standards, and even reducing the risk premium of public debt.

Citi's Chief Economist, Willem Buiter, along with Detter and Fölster outlined these ideas in a recent report that also serves as a preview for the book set to be released in July. "Given that in most countries public wealth is larger than public debt, just managing it better could help to solve the debt problem while also providing the material for future economic growth," the report finds. "A higher return of just 1 percent on global public assets would add some $750 billion to public revenues. Poor management not only throws money down the drain, but also forecloses opportunities."

The authors add that an achievable return of 3.5 percent would put $2.7 trillion a year in the hands of governments, enough to cover the cost of national infrastructure spending worldwide. For this reason, assets such as government-owned corporations and real estate holdings—many of which are not accounted for in government balance sheets—all add value to public wealth that need to be recognized, the authors say.

For example, a U.S. national park likely has negative cash flows due to the annual operating expenses. However, the current financial value of that park could include the potential for future cash flows originating from activities like drilling, fracking, or real estate development.

"We are not advocating strip mining Yellowstone National Park, only outlining the way in which the federal government's guardianship of Yellowstone National Park ought to be reflected in the federal government's comprehensive balance sheet," Buiter writes. "Only that way can a well-informed cost-benefit analysis be conducted to determine the socially optimal use of this public asset."

But even so, the authors suggest that most governments don’t understand the full value of their assets.

They wrote:

[M]ost governments have more wealth than they are aware of, including the many nations currently caught in the grip of debt crises. Many of these troubled countries own thousands of firms, land titles, and other assets, which they have not valued, let alone manage for the common good. Public wealth is a gold mine waiting to be managed professionally for the common good. Like a gold mine, most of the wealth is not visible without some effort to bring it out in the open.

The U.S. has its own gold mine. According to the IMF, the federal government owns more than a quarter of all land in the country, as well as a real estate portfolio worth $1.5 trillion.

Plus, state and local governments have real estate holdings worth $6 trillion. Government-owned buildings, state and local-owned airports, as well as highways and Amtrak lines could all be better managed to make money, instead of bleeding it.

For example, if Amtrak reduced its operations to just 23 states, it could focus investment on the highly used, highly profitable lines, such as those in its Northeast Corridor.

Of course, this raises questions about the economic value of social return and whether "bridges to nowhere" for a few are worth the high cost. Still the potential benefits of these kinds of ideas seem too lucrative to ignore.

"In the U.S., for every 1 percent increase in yield from the federal government asset portfolio, total taxes could be lowered by 4 percent," Detter and Fölster wrote. "This alone should make every individual citizen, taxpayer, investor, financial analyst, and stakeholder stand up and pay attention. And it should spur demand for action."

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