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Malaysia Is Twice as Rich as the NYT Says Print
Saturday, 02 October 2010 11:18

It is really simple to use purchasing power parity measures of GDP. This makes it hard to understand why the NYT and other papers use exchange rate measures. The exchange rate measures are essentially meaningless, whereas the purchasing power parity provide some basis for assessing living standards.

The NYT told readers that per capita income in Malaysia is about $7,000. According to the CIA Factbook Malaysia's per capita income is $14,900.

 
Washington Post Calls Spendthrift Consumers "Skittish" Print
Saturday, 02 October 2010 07:50

The Washington Post headlined an article on the release of data August consumer spending: "with consumers skittish, hopes muted for holiday sales." The article goes on to describe weak consumer sales, which are explained by pessimistic attitudes about the economy.

In fact, consumer sales are actually quite strong given the level of income. As the article notes, the saving rate for August was 5.8 percent. This is considerably below the average for the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. In each of these decades the savings rate was considerably above 8.0 percent.

The saving rate began to drop toward the end of the 80s and into the 90s as a result of the wealth effect generated by the stock market bubble. It fell to zero as a result of the wealth effect from the housing bubble. Now that most of this bubble wealth has disappeared, it would be expected that the savings rate would return to its normal level or possibly even rise above it, as households attempt to make up for lost wealth. This is especially likely given that the huge cohort of baby boomers is approaching retirement with virtually no wealth and there is widespread talk of cutting their Social Security benefits.

It is remarkable that the Washington Post could not find any economists familiar with the wealth effect on consumption. It is one of the most basic relationships in economics.

 
Washington Post Propagandizes for Trade Agreements Print
Saturday, 02 October 2010 07:24

The Washington Post is a huge fan of protectionism. That is what readers can conclude from the fact that it conceals the protectionist aspects of trade deals like the trade agreement between the United States and South Korea. Provisions increasing protection for U.S. patents and copyrights are an important part of this trade agreement. However, the Post has devoted almost no space to mentioning these provisions, which will raise costs for Korean consumers and slow growth there.

Instead, the Post constantly mischaracterizes the deal as a "free-trade" agreement (as opposed to a "trade agreement") thereby wasting space and spreading inaccurate information.

 
The NYT Could Not Find Any Critics of the TARP Print
Friday, 01 October 2010 07:38

This is striking, since most of the country falls into the critics category. Apparently, the NYT doesn't know any TARP critics.

If they did, and they talked to them for their article on the end of the TARP, the critics likely would have told the NYT that the TARP preserved Wall Street as we know it. Had the market been allowed to do its magic, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and many other fine institutions would have been bankrupt. This would have redistributed more than a trillion dollars of wealth from the shareowners, the creditors, and the top executives to the rest of the country.

By providing them with loans at below market interest rates, the TARP and the much larger Fed and FDIC bailouts, allowed the banks to survive the crisis created by their own recklessness. This was like giving away food during a famine. The banks have repaid the food with interest now that the harvest has come in, but to pretend that we did not do them an enormous favor at enormous cost to taxpayers (we could have rescued others with these loans) is absurd.

The claim that we averted a second Great Depression with the TARP is a great children's story, but no one has any clue how the decision to not do the TARP would have necessitated a second Great Depression. The first Great Depression was the result of a decade of bad policy, not just an initial policy failure at its onset.

 
Tax Hikes Don't Require Philosophy, Contrary to Claims in the NYT Print
Thursday, 30 September 2010 07:59

It might be the case that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but the NYT is telling us that we need a philosopher to guide our tax policy. An article on the debate over extending the Bush tax cuts told readers:

"As the political battle drags on, however, it has also veered into a more basic matter of fairness, whether a person who earns more than $200,000 a year should be taxed at rates similar to those who make $5 million."

Umm, really? Is the rate at which people are taxed, as opposed to the amount they pay in taxes, really such an important political issue? Do most people even know the rate at which they are taxed? Following the 1986 tax reform, tens of millions of middle income workers paid the same 28 percent tax rate as the very richest people in the country. There was not a big philosophical debate over this issue at that time. (We were lowering rates for the wealthy back then, not raising them.)

The more obvious issue is how much tax people will be paying. The answer for the questionably rich people who are the focus of this article (people with incomes between $250,000 and $500,000) is not very much. The Joint Tax Committee in Congress calculated that the average tax hit for taxpayers with income in this range would be $400 a year. That sort of tax hit would not seem to require very much philosophy.

 

 
Art and Culture as a Local Economic Development Strategy Print
Tuesday, 28 September 2010 06:14
USA Today has an interesting article about how Grand Rapids, Michigan has gotten a boost to its economy from a modest arts prize awarded each year by a private donor. This raises the issue of whether some communities may use similar methods to more systematically provide economic development. A local government could adopt something like an artistic freedom voucher system to encourage creative workers (e.g. musicians, writers, artists, etc) to live in their city. Since these people would want to get support from the local population through the voucher system, they would have a strong incentive to perform frequently. This could turn a city into an arts mecca.
 
Health Economists Don't Believe in International Trade Print
Monday, 27 September 2010 17:03
Princeton University Professor Uwe Reinhardt does not believe that it is possible to keep per person health care costs from rising from twice the average in the countries with longer life expectancies than the United States to more than four times the average in countries with longer life expectancies. Of course there are obvious ways to get costs done, such as the $270 billion a year that could be saved by eliminating government patent monopolies for prescription drugs and adopting a more efficient mechanism for financing drug research.

But the easiest mechanism to eliminate these enormous price differentials would be to simply open the market to international trade and allow people in the United States to take advantage of the more efficient health care systems in other countries. Too bad the NYT's economists don't believe in free trade.
 
Ross Douthat Claims That "Everybody Knows" Something That Is Not True Print
Monday, 27 September 2010 08:50

That's right NYT columnist Ross Douthat told readers today that: "And as everybody knows, the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security."

Of course everybody who knows anything about the budget knows full well that this is not true. The budget problem is almost entirely a story of a broken health care system. If the United States had the same per person health care costs as any of the countries which enjoy longer life expectancies than the United States, then it would be facing long-term budget surpluses, not deficits. 

Everybody also knows that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. It is financed by a separate designated tax. The most recent projections from the Congressional Budget Office show that this tax will be sufficient to fully fund benefits through the year 2039 with no changes whatsoever. 

Given the health of the program, it is not clear why anyone would want to cut Social Security except to take money from ordinary workers -- a major sport in Washington. It would make more sense to default on the national debt.

 
Lessons for Post Media Critic on How Real Reporters Write Print
Monday, 27 September 2010 06:28

Howard Kurtz, the Post's media critic, had a lengthy profile of NYT columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman in the paper today. At one point Kurtz told readers that:

"Many other White House officials [other than Larry Summers] view Krugman as an irritant who has become predictable and whiny in his criticism."

Actually, Mr. Kurtz doesn't know how other White House officials actually view Krugman, he only knows how they say they view Krugman. Since Krugman has been a harsh critic of many Obama administration policies, the unnamed White House officials would have good reason to try to discredit Krugman to the public regardless of whether or not they thought these criticisms were accurate.

This is why a competent reporter would write that:

"White House officials say they view Krugman as an irritant who has become predictable and whiny in his criticism."

This would accurately convey information to readers instead of serving the White House public relations effort.

 
Robert Reich is Correct, the NYT's Incompetent Book Reviewer Is Wrong Print
Sunday, 26 September 2010 19:54

The New York Times assigned former Washington Post reporter Sebastian Mallaby to review Robert Reich's new book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. It is unfortunate that they couldn't find someone familiar who knew some economics for this task.

Near the beginning of the review, Mallaby tells readers:

"Reich insists instead that American consumers, and particularly the middle class, have been buying too little. For years, the United States has consumed more than it has produced; the excess demand has sucked in products from abroad, which is why the nation has run a trade deficit. The idea that the economy has suffered from a lack of demand is, shall we say, eccentric."

Actually, there are few economists who would say that the United States had excess demand throughout most of the last decade, so Robert Reich is exactly right on this point and Sebastian Mallaby is completely wrong. The trade deficit was the result of an over-valued dollar.

This is actually very basic economics. The value of the dollar determines the relative price of foreign and domestic goods. If the dollar is sufficiently over-valued then the United States could be running a trade deficit even when demand is grossly inadequate -- as is the case at present. The high dollar makes imports very cheap for people in the United States, which causes us to consume large amounts of imports. It also makes U.S. exports expensive to people living in other countries, which means that we will have weak exports. It is remarkably that Mallaby is apparently unfamiliar with this basic logic and that his mistake was apparently not caught by the editor.

 
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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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