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David Brooks Was Traumatized by the Health Care Bill Print
Friday, 07 January 2011 01:12

Yes, David Brooks devotes a column to the health care bill in which he refers to the "trauma of the past two years." Wow, things must have been bad at the NYT's oped pages. Did Mr. Brooks have nightmares about death panels?

Mr. Brooks' trauma may explain why the column is so out of touch with reality. Brooks warns that:

"The number of people in those exchanges could thus skyrocket, especially as startup companies undermine their competitors with uninsured employees and lower costs."

What does Brooks think he is saying here? As it stands, start-ups already do not have any obligation to pay for their workers' health care. Furthermore, the absolute orthodoxy in economics (i.e. you are an idiot if you don't accept it) is that health care payments come out of wages, so the savings to employers from not providing health care should simply end up as higher wages, so how will the start-ups benefit in this picture?

More importantly, if President Obama's health care plan allows start-ups to be much more competitive domestically, won't they also be much more competitive internationally? And, this is a big problem?

Maybe the NYT should let Mr. Brooks go on leave until he recovers from his trauma.

 
State Financing Crisis: Big News, the Stock Market Fell in 2008 Print
Thursday, 06 January 2011 11:37

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post decided to make major news stories out of a new Census report on state finances for fiscal 2009. Both papers highlighted a reported 30 percent decline in revenue for the year.

While this might sound like a terrifying plunge, the bulk of this reported decline in revenue was attributable to the loss in value of investments held by the states, most importantly stock held by their pension funds. The fact that the stock market fell in the 2009 fiscal year (June 30, 2008 to June 30, 2009 in almost all states) is not exactly news. The S&P 500 fell by 27.9 percent from the end of June, 2008 to the end of June, 2009. 

Furthermore, it would have been worth pointing out that this plunge has been largely reversed. The S&P rose 12 percent during the states' 2010 fiscal year and its most recent close has brought the market almost back to its June 2008 level. In other words, the plunge in revenue that is the highlight of these articles has already been almost completely reversed by the subsequent rise in the stock market.

This does not mean that the states do not still face serious funding shortfalls. Revenue has been hard hit by the recession and stocks still have not provided the return that was anticipated, meaning that pensions do face shortfalls. However, it would have been helpful to readers to point out that the plunge in investment values has been been reversed rather than to highlight this plunge as a major cause for concern.

Hat tip to Gary Burtless.

 
Gene Sperling Thinks Asset Bubbles Are Cool Print
Thursday, 06 January 2011 06:26

I will depart from my policy of not commenting on articles where I am mentioned to clarify the issues (to me) surrounding Gene Sperling's selection as a President Obama's national economic advisor. The primary issue is not that Sperling got $900,000 from Goldman Sachs for part-time work, although that does look bad. The primary issue is that Sperling thought, and may still think, that the policies that laid the basis for the economic collapse were just fine.

Sperling saw nothing wrong with the stock market bubble that laid the basis for the 2001 recession. The economy did not begin to create jobs again until two and a half years after the beginning of this recession and even then it was only due to the growth of the housing bubble. Gene Sperling also saw nothing wrong with the growth of that bubble. Gene Sperling also saw nothing wrong with the financial deregulation of the Clinton years which, by the way, helped make Goldman Sachs lots of money. And, he saw nothing wrong with the over-valued dollar which gave the United States an enormous trade deficit. This trade deficit undermined the bargaining power of manufacturing workers and helped to redistribute income upward.

In short, Sperling has a horrible track record of supporting policies that were bad for the country and good for Wall Street. This track record is far more important than his $900,000 consulting fee in providing my basis for objecting to Sperling's appointment. It is remarkable that it was not mentioned in this article.

 
Growing Estonia Has 16.2 Percent Unemployment Print
Thursday, 06 January 2011 06:17
The Washington Post had an article on Estonia's entry into the euro zone. It contrasted Estonia, along with Germany, as "growing" economies, with debt laden ones, like Greece and Ireland. It would have been worth noting that Estonia now has an unemployment rate of 16.2 percent. It's economy shrank by more than 15 percent in the downturn and it is not projected to get back to its 2007 level of GDP until after 2015. For these reasons, it is strange to paint Estonia as a success story.
 
The NYT Gets It Wrong: Bill Clinton and Gene Sperling Did Not Create the Earned Income Tax Credit, Richard Nixon Did Print
Wednesday, 05 January 2011 22:07

The NYT ran a blognote providing background on Gene Sperling, who is likely to be selected as President Obama's new National Economic Advisor. At one point the post refers to Sperling's work in the Clinton administration and told readers that he is:

"particularly proud of the work he and colleagues did to create the Earned Income Tax Credit."

Actually the Earned Income Tax Credit was a Nixon administration policy that first took effect in January of 1975.

[Addendum: the NYT has now corrected the post. Also, the EITC law was actually signed by Ford after Nixon resigned.]

 
Hasn't Casey Mulligan Gotten the October House Price Data Yet? Print
Wednesday, 05 January 2011 06:12

Casey Mulligan has a blognote in the NYT today dismissing concerns about a double-dip in the housing market telling readers that:

"the price and construction data so far do not seem to suggest that home values will be significantly different this year than they were in 2010."

Those looking at Mr. Mulligan's charts will note that he only shows the Case-Shiller data on home prices through September. This is striking because the Case-Shiller 20-city index was released the last Tuesday of 2010. This index showed a price decline of 1.3 percent from September to October. Over the three months since prices temporarily peaked in July, at the expiration of the first-time buyers tax credit, home prices have fallen at a 9.2 percent annual rate.

Home prices in the bottom third of the market, which was most affected by the credit, are plunging in almost every city. These declines are likely to affect the higher end of the market in the year ahead since the people selling bottom tier homes are the ones buying more expensive homes. These data form the basis for most concerns about further declines in house prices. Without the most recent data it is difficult to make useful projections about 2011 prices.

 
For Governor Mitch Daniels High Income is $60,000 a Year Print
Wednesday, 05 January 2011 05:58

The NYT profiled Indiana's governor Mitch Daniels as a responsible deficit hawk. At one point it describes his agenda for saving money on Social Security and Medicare:

"Benefits should be cut for high-income and healthy people."

It is worth noting that most of the proposals for changes in the Social Security benefit formula of the type described in the article would reduce benefits for people who have had average earnings as low as $40,000 a year. This is not an income level that would usually be described as "high income." For tax purposes, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have used $200,000 as a cutoff.

 
NYT Enters Fantasy Land to Criticize Democrats Print
Tuesday, 04 January 2011 22:11

Given that the unemployment rate is 9.8 percent, that more than 1 million people a year are losing their homes to foreclosure, and that corporate profits are back at pre-recession levels, one would think that there are plenty of legitimate grounds to criticize President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. But, the NYT decided not to restrict itself it to reality.

In a piece warning the Republicans not to misread their mandate the NYT explained that this is exactly what the Democrats had done:

"It’s also how Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008 came to enact a series of expensive new programs without ever really bothering to explain to the public why such investments were necessary or how they would be paid for. They wanted to believe the voters had risen up to demand a resurgence of liberal government, when in fact all the evidence suggested that all anxious voters really wanted was a government that seemed to work."

It would have been great if the NYT could have given 2 or 3 examples of "expensive new programs" that the Democrats had enacted without paying for. The only expensive program that sticks out at the moment is the health care reform bill. This bill is paid for, at least according to the Congressional Budget Office, even if not according to the NYT.

Given the fact that this piece is completely out of touch with reality perhaps the NYT has decided to introduce a comics section.

 
Post Wrongly Calls William Daley a "Free-Trade Stalwart" Print
Tuesday, 04 January 2011 06:16

The Post used this term in a piece reporting that the J.P. Morgan executive may become President Obama's next chief of staff. In fact, NAFTA, which Daley helped push through Congress, and other trade deals that he has supported included many protectionist provisions, most importantly increasing intellectual property protections. These deals also did little or nothing to free up trade in highly paid professional services like those provided by doctors and lawyers.

The trade deals supported by Daley were primarily about subjecting manufacturing workers to increased competition with low-paid workers in the developing world, thereby driving down their wages. They had little to do with free trade.

 
David Brooks Says Financial Speculation Taxes Are Under Consideration Print
Tuesday, 04 January 2011 05:45

Yep, Brooks said that proposals to raise $150 billion a year from Wall Street banks and speculators are now on the national political agenda. So are alternatives to patent monopolies for supporting prescription drug research and international Medicare vouchers that will allow beneficiaries to take advantage of the more efficient health care systems in Germany, Canada and elsewhere, with the government and the beneficiary splitting the savings.

Brooks told readers this morning that "...the exciting thing about this moment is that everything is on the table," so all of these policies must be under consideration. Okay, Brooks probably didn't really mean this, but we can still have fun.

He should also correct his characterization of big versus small government. He seems to use government spending as a share of GDP as a measure of whether government is "big." In fact, a government that spends less as a share of GDP can easily have more control over the economy than a larger government. For example, a government can mandate private expenditures such as the purchase of health care rather than pay for health care through direct spending. Or, it can grant monopolies like patents and copyrights instead of paying subsidies. It can also give out tax expenditures, like the mortgage interest deduction, instead of paying out subsidies.

The government can also squeeze large segments of the workforce by having the Federal Reserve Board pursue policies  that push up interest rates and therefore unemployment. Such policies would also have the effect of squeezing state and local governments, forcing them to cut back spending and/or raise taxes. In short, there is little direct relationship between the government's share of GDP and its impact on the economy.

 
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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.

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