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The Post Does Mind Reading at the European Central Bank Print
Thursday, 29 September 2011 06:28

The Washington Post explained the reluctance of European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet to support a large write down of Greek debt that would force creditors to take large losses by saying:

"Trichet and others worry that a default or even a steep devaluation of Greek bonds would wreck the euro zone’s credibility and make it harder for countries, banks and companies to raise money."

Actually, the Post doesn't know what Mr. Trichet and others are worried are actually about, it only knows what they claim to be worried about. It is possible that Mr. Trichet and the unnamed others are actually worried about the euro zone's credibility, but it also possible that their main concern is to protect European banks from large losses. The Post should just report what people say and do and not try to claim knowledge of their motives.

 
Germany Is a Slow Growing Rich Country, China Is a Fast Growing Developing Country Print
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:38

In a useful anti-austerity editorial the NYT makes the mistake of equating the trade surpluses of China and Germany. There is a fundamental difference between these countries. China is a fast growing developing country. In standard economic theory we would expect that it would be a capital importer (meaning it has a trade deficit) since capital gets a much higher return in China than elsewhere. The fact that China and other developing countries are growing by running large trade surpluses and exporting capital reflects the enormous failure of the IMF in setting up a workable international financial system.

On the other hand, it would be expected that a relatively slow growing wealthy country like Germany would have a trade surplus, although not necessarily with other wealthy countries, as is now the case in the euro zone. The Germans apparently have not yet come to grips with the accounting identity that implies that if they run persistent trade surpluses with the other euro zone countries, then Germany will have to continually lend them more money. The only way to avoid this situation would be if the deficit countries within the euro zone had massive surpluses with non-euro zone countries.

 
AP Says a Financial Speculation Tax Could Lead to an Attack By Martians Print
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 20:34

Close, but not quite; citing no evidence whatsoever, an AP article on plans to impose a financial speculation tax told readers that:

"though the tax could dent growth and employment, it has won a fair degree of support across the 17-country eurozone, including France and Germany, the EU's two biggest economies."

This should have caused readers to scratch their heads and some people at AP to get fired.

Okay, we know that rich and powerful people don't like the idea of taxing financial speculation. A serious news article would just tell us that rich and powerful people don't like taxing financial speculation, it would not just make things up about the tax slowing growth and job creation as this piece does.

The reality is that the tax rates being discussed would just raise the cost of financial transactions back to where they were in the 80s or even the 90s. Perhaps AP's reporters/editors don't have any knowledge of these decades, but we had plenty of growth and job creation back then. If the lower transactions costs of the last 15-20 years have helped growth it would be hard to find evidence for this in the data.

 
Ruth Marcus Is Right: Don't Focus on Budget Trivia Print
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 05:03

It's nice to see Ruth Marcus use some simple common sense in her Post column today. She criticizes the flap over the $16 breakfast muffin (which turns out not to be true). She then points to other big flaps over very little money.

The points are well-taken. Many budget battles are over trivial portions of the budget. (John McCain made a $1 million appropriation [0.00003 percent of federal spending] a centerpiece of his 2008 presidential campaign.) It would be great if the Post would use its news pages to educate the public about where the real spending takes place, for example by routinely expressing spending and tax items as shares of the budget. It would also be useful if it started pointing out the fact that the long-term deficit problem is entirely the result of our broken health care system.

 
USA Today Says Republicans Want Joe the Plumber to Subsidize Corporate Jet Gang Print
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 04:48

Actually, USA Today didn't put it in quite these terms, and readers of its piece on raising airport fees probably missed it, but that is the clear implication of one of the statements in the piece. The piece told readers that:

"The security fees that passengers pay now cover about 43% of its costs of providing security in the air."

If this is accurate, then opponents of raising the fees believe that average taxpayers should subsidize the travel of frequent flyers and especially users of corporate jets, who pay very low fees.

 
A More Serious Way to Cover Street Protests Print
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 03:45
The NYT had a good piece on the wave of world-wide protests driven by economic policy today. This piece contrasts with a piece last weekend which clearly had the purpose of making the protests against Wall Street look foolish. Reporters would have little problem finding ill-informed inarticulate people at any of the protests mentioned in today's piece. However, these people would not be representative of the protest and their views would not explain the cause of the actions.
 
David Brooks on Stimulus: The Food is Poison and the Portions are So Small! Print
Tuesday, 27 September 2011 17:09

Jonah Gelbach takes me to task for not reading David Brooks column carefully enough. Had I done so, I would have noted this part about President Obama’s latest jobs plan:

“Look at the recent Obama stimulus proposal. You may like it or not, but it’s trivial. It’s simply not significant enough to make a difference, given the size of the global mess.”

After telling us that stimulus does not work, Brooks is now telling us that Obama’s plan is too small to make a difference. [The latest jobs bill actually would provide more stimulus in 2012 than the original stimulus did for either 2009 or 2010.]

 
David Brooks Is Upset at Liberals Who INSIST on Applying Arithmetic to Economics Print
Tuesday, 27 September 2011 03:58

David Brooks is really upset, we may have a lost decade because he is sitting there being right, standing in the middle, and the two extremes who control public debate won't agree with him. How do we know Brooks is right? Well, he is in the middle between the two extremes he just told you about, how could he not be right?

How do we know that the liberals/progressives are wrong? Brooks tells us:

"Many Democrats are predisposed to want more government spending. So they pick up on the one current they think can be cured with more government spending: low consumer demand. Increase government spending and that will pump up consumer spending.

When President Obama’s stimulus package produced insufficient results, they didn’t concede that maybe there are other factors at play, which mitigated the effects. They just called for more government spending. To a man in love with his hammer, every problem requires a nail."

 

Yeah, don't we just hate these Democrats? They are in love with their hammer (government spending) and therefore make everything look like a nail.

Suppose Brooks ever took 10 minutes to read the Obama administration's projections for the stimulus. (It's on the web and can be downloaded for free, so a NYT columnist should have access to it.) The first item in the summary of  Romer-Bernstein report would tell Brooks that:

"A package in the range that the President-Elect has discussed would create between 3-4 million jobs by the end of 2010." 

Let look at that one again:

"A package in the range that the President-Elect has discussed would create between 3-4 million jobs by the end of 2010."

Okay, 3-4 million jobs from a "package in the range that the President-Elect has discussed."

How many jobs did the economy need? By April of 2009, when the first stimulus payments were going out the door, the economy had already lost more than 6.5 million jobs. If we add in normal job growth that we would have seen in a healthy economy, we were already down by more than 8.0 million jobs.

And the economy was still losing jobs at the rate of more than 400,000 jobs a month. By July, we down by almost 10 million jobs from what would have been expected if the economy had sustained a normal pace of job growth from the start of the recession. This is what Brooks would know if ever bothered to look at the numbers.

Now let's look at that quote one more time:

"A package in the range that the President-Elect has discussed would create between 3-4 million jobs by the end of 2010."

President Obama proposed a stimulus package of about $800 billion. He got a package of around $700 billion. (We have to pull out $80 billion for the Alternative Minimum Tax fix. No one, I mean no one, thinks that this fix, which is done every year, had anything to do with stimulus.)

Furthermore, the package was more heavily tilted toward tax cuts than the package that President Obama proposed. Tax cuts have less impact per dollar than spending. David Brooks could find this fact in the Romer-Bernstein paper as well. The appendix tells us that a tax cut equal to 1 percent of GDP will eventually increase GDP by 0.99 percent. By contrast, government spending equal to 1 percent of GDP will increase GDP by 1.57 percent of GDP.

If President Obama got a package that was smaller than what he requested and more tilted towards tax cuts than what he expected, then the impact on growth and jobs would be less than what he expected. He expected that the package he rquested would create 3-4 million jobs, the package he got would be expected to create something less than 3-4 million jobs. And, we know that the economy needed somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 million jobs.

So how is anything about stimulus disproved because a stimulus that could have been expected to create maybe 3 million jobs was not adequate in a downturn where we needed 10 million jobs? There are no tricks here, this is all arithmetic and it is all right there in black and white.

But, Brooks does not want to be bothered by arithmetic. He wants his readers to support his plans for tax reform, for cutting Social Security and Medicare. In other words he wants his readers' support for doing all the the things that David Brooks always wanted to do, but he now says that we absolutely have to do because of an economic crisis caused by the incompetence of the people who always wanted to do these things.

And the people who insist on sticking to arithmetic -- who point out now and said at the time that the stimulus was not large enough -- well to a man in love with his hammer, every problem requires a nail. If arithmetic is nails, Brooks has no hammer.

 

 

 

 
How Did NPR Determine that the Political Deadlock Is Slowing the Economy? Print
Monday, 26 September 2011 05:12
Cokie Roberts told listeners that the political deadlock between President Obama and Congress is slowing the economy [sorry, no link yet]. It is far from clear that this is the case. Consumption as a share of disposable income is actually higher than its post-war average. Investment in equipment and software is nearly back to its pre-recession share of output, which is striking given the large amount of excess capacity in most sectors of the economy. It is not clear what component of GDP that Roberts thinks would be higher without the deadlock.
 
Robert Samuelson is Half Right: China Could Save the World Print
Monday, 26 September 2011 04:34

Robert Samuelson has a piece today arguing that China's intervention is necessary to save the world economy. He of course is right in arguing that China has enough economic strength to save the euro and prevent a downward spiral that would throw the world economy back into recession, as some of us have argued

However, the fact that China may have to play this role is due to the failings of the political leadership in both Europe and the United States. It is essential to remember that this is a crisis of a lack of demand, not supply. For this reason, it is ungodly stupid that so many people are being made to suffer from unemployment and declining living standards.

We know how to get out of this mess, we have known how for 70 years. We just need the government to generate demand. That means spending money. Ideally it would spend money on useful things like education, health care, and infrastructure, but even if it spent money in wasteful ways it would still create jobs and put people to work.

In the 30s we got much of the way back to full employment with the Works Progress Administration and other programs. Much of what was done was useful -- look around, you won't have to go far to find infrastructure built by depression-era programs. However, it took the massive spending associated with World War II to get the economy back to full employment. There is no magic associated with war that makes military spending more effective in creating jobs. The only difference was that the threat to the nation from the Axis powers removed the political obstacles to the necessary spending. 

The same situation applies today. We just need to spend money. That applies to both the United States and the euro zone countries. The problem is that we have more people in political leadership positions who want to be morality cops and lecture about balancing budgets rather than focus on policies that will restore economic growth. This includes the top officials at the European Central Bank, many of the voting members of the Federal Reserve Board's Open Market Committee and much of the political leadership in the euro zone countries, the United Kingdom and of course here.

The reason why the world might need China to come to the rescue is that our economic policy is being designed by people who prefer to impose their warped sense of morality rather than pursue serious economic policy. The real humiliation of turning to China is not that we actually need China, it's that our political leaders are prevented us from saving ourselves.

 
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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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