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The Fed Has Credibility? Print
Monday, 01 November 2010 04:44

A Washington Post article discussing the risks associated with another round of quantitative easing raised the possibility that the Fed could lose its credibility if the program does not lead to the intended growth. It implies that the loss of credibility would be a major harm.

It is worth noting that the whole economic collapse came about because of the Fed's failure to notice and/or do anything about an $8 trillion housing bubble. Given this enormous failure, it is not clear how much credibility it currently enjoys among people who follow the economy.

The article also raises the risk that a precipitous fall in the dollar, "could be disastrous." It is difficult to see a scenario in which even the steepest falls in the dollar would be disastrous for the United States. U.S. exporters would suddenly become hyper-competitive (we still export $1 trillion a year in goods and services), while domestically produced goods would drive imports from the shelves. This scenario would likely be disastrous for our trading partners, which is why they would almost certainly intervene in currency markets to prevent the dollar from having a steep and sudden tumble.

 
NPR Stacks the Deck to Push Its Trade Agenda Print
Sunday, 31 October 2010 08:10

On Friday, Morning Edition featured a debate on trade between former Bush administration economist Mathew Slaughter and Thea Lee, an economist with the AFL-CIO. [Disclosure: Ms. Lee is a personal friend.] The discussion allowed Mr. Slaughter to have the last word, in which he proclaimed:

"One is most of the research to date that Thea cites has concluded that it's technology innovations of many kinds, that tend to favor demand for skilled workers that has put pressure on the wages of so many Americans.

So from a policy perspective, a question is, well, what do we want to do about that? Do you want to get rid of the computers that we've created over the past 30 or 40 years?"

Actually the economic research does not provide a compelling case that technology, rather than trade, has been the major factor driving inequality. The biggest rise in inequality between college and non-college educated workers occurred in the 80s, before the explosion of computerization and the uptick in productivity growth. In the 00s, there was no increase in the college-non-college pay gap. The only real gainers in that decade were workers with advance degree. This pattern in inequality is difficult to reconcile with a technology story.

 
David Broder Calls for War With Iran to Boost the Economy Print
Sunday, 31 October 2010 07:51

This is not a joke (at least not on my part). David Broder, the longtime columnist and reporter at a formerly respectable newspaper, quite explicitly suggested that fighting a war with Iran could be an effective way to boost the economy. Ignoring the idea that anyone should undertake war as an economic policy, Broder's economics is also a visit to loon tune land.

Broder tells readers:

"Can Obama harness the forces that might spur new growth? This is the key question for the next two years.

What are those forces? Essentially, there are two. One is the power of the business cycle, the tidal force that throughout history has dictated when the economy expands and when it contracts.

Economists struggle to analyze this, but they almost inevitably conclude that it cannot be rushed and almost resists political command. As the saying goes, the market will go where it is going to go.

In this regard, Obama has no advantage over any other pol. Even in analyzing the tidal force correctly, he cannot control it.

What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy."

Sorry Mr. Broder, outside of Fox on 15th the world does not work this way. War affects the economy the same way that other government spending affects the economy. It does not have some mystical impact as Broder seems to think.

If spending on war can provide jobs and lift the economy then so can spending on roads, weatherizing homes, or educating our kids. Yes, that's right, all the forms of stimulus spending that Broder derided so much because they add to the deficit will increase GDP and generate jobs just like the war that Broder is advocating (which will also add to the deficit).

So, we have two routes to prosperity. We can either build up our physical infrastructure and improve the skills and education of our workers or we can go kill Iranians. Broder has made it clear where he stands.

 

 

 
Fred Hiatt Demands That President Obama Lie to the American People Print
Sunday, 31 October 2010 07:15

The Washington Post (a.k.a. "Fox on 15th Street) clearly is on the opposite side of the Rally to Restore Sanity. In addition to David Broder's call for a war to stimulate the economy, Fred Hiatt, the paper's editorial page editor, demanded that President Obama lie to the American people.

In an article calling on President Obama to show leadership, Hiatt lists at the top of things that Obama would do if he were acting as a leader:

"He would tell Democrats that Social Security will go broke without reform." Of course this is not true. According to the Congressional Budget Office the program is fully solvent for the next 29 years with no changes whatsoever and with changes no larger than were put in place by the Greenspan commission in 1983 it can be kept solvent in the 22nd century.

Hiatt also complained that Obama has demonized business. This apparently stems from the difficulty of getting information in distant downturn Washington. Hiatt is apparently unaware of the fact that even as unemployment remains at near double-digit levels, corporate profits have returned to their pre-recession peak. In other words, business is doing just great under President Obama's leadership, even he has occasionally said some nasty things about them.

The column also included the bizarre assertion that: "unchecked, deficits will depress Americans' standard of living deficits threaten the country's standard of living." Of course by far the biggest threat to Americans' standard of living is the near double-digit unemployment that the country is now experiencing. The deficits being run today impose zero burden on the country since they harness resources that would otherwise be idle.

Over the long-term, the deficit problem is simply the problem of a broken U.S. health care system as every policy analyst knows. For some reason the Washington Post is determined to hide this simple fact. 

 
The GDP Story: Final Demand Grew Just 0.6 Percent Print
Friday, 29 October 2010 10:20

Come on folks, we had the second largest inventory build-up in history. Pull that out and final demand grew at just a 0.6 percent annual rate.

Does anyone thing that inventories will continue to grow at this rate? This means that instead of adding to growth inventories will subtract from an economy that has almost no forward momentum. This is all GDP accounting 101. This should be the headline on the 3rd quarter numbers.

 
David Brooks Tells Us the Unemployed Are Really Concerned About Values Print
Friday, 29 October 2010 03:03

Hell no, I'm not kidding. Here it is:

"the public's real anxiety is about values, not economics: the gnawing sense that Americans have become debt-addicted and self-indulgent."

This is really priceless. There are more than 25 million people unemployed, underemployed or who have given up looking for work altogether, but they are not concerned about economics. They are worried about values.

Okay, I will stop with the ridiculing of David Brooks, I know it's cheap fun. But, I do have to point out one other real winner in this column:

" Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis." 

Yes, the column says "fiscal." Is this the mother of all Freudian slips or what? Brooks somehow wrote "fiscal," when he obviously meant "financial." Neither he nor his editor caught it on a second reading. You couldn't ask for a better example of the elite's fixation with making this into a fiscal crisis. The Wall Street boys wrecked the economy with their greed and ineptitude and now they intend to make ordinary workers pay for it with cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Talk about a crisis of values.

 
More Communications Problems at the Washington Post Print
Thursday, 28 October 2010 06:15
Apparently the Post's reporters have been able to get access to information about France's pension laws. It wrongly reported that its pension cutbacks raised the retirement age from 60 to 62. In fact, this is the age of early retirement, which is comparable to the age 62 minimum in the United States for early Social Security benefits. The age for getting full benefits in France is rising from 65 to 67 under the new law. 
 
David Broder Suffers from the Poor Communication Systems in Washington Print
Thursday, 28 October 2010 05:24

News travels slowly in Washington, which is one reason that the Washington Post (a.k.a. Fox on 15th Street) is often so out of touch with events. Today columnist David Broder bemoaned the fact that Republican Representative Paul Ryan: "has assumed the role of analyst and provocateur. But no one on the Democratic bench has taken up his challenge, so it is a dialogue of the deaf at this point." 

Actually Democrats across the country have had a field day attacking Mr. Ryan's plans for privatizing Social Security and Medicare. The main problem is that the Republican leadership disowns these plans and insists that Mr. Ryan only speaks for himself. Perhaps one day this news will reach the Post.

 
Let's See, When Supply Drops, Prices Fall Print
Thursday, 28 October 2010 05:01

That's what NPR told listeners in its top of the hour news segment on Morning Edition (sorry, no link). The context was the possibility that a slowdown in foreclosures will reduce the supply of foreclosed homes being put on the market.

The Obama administration and other analysts have made this assertion, but it does defy basic economic logic and common sense. If a delay in the foreclosure process results in fewer homes being placed on the market then we should expect prices to rise, not fall. (This is compared to what would happen otherwise -- prices are falling now.) It is arguable whether such an increase would be good or bad, but reporters should try to get this one right even if the administration is having problems figuring out which way is up.

 
The Fallout from the Housing Bubble in Spain Print
Thursday, 28 October 2010 04:43

The NYT had an excellent piece reporting on the debt burdens created by the collapse of the housing bubble in Spain. In Spain, unlike the U.S., mortgage debt typically follows the borrower even after they have lost their house. It is also very difficult to eliminate this debt through bankruptcy which means that many foreclosed homeowners will be saddled with mortgage debt until they die.

This is part of the reason that competent economists were concerned about housing bubbles in places like Spain. The European Central Bank (ECB), like the Fed, was not concerned. No one at the ECB lost their job, or even missed a promotion, as a result of its failure to take steps to counter the housing bubble in many euro zone countries.

It is also worth noting that debt has an effect on labor supply that is comparable to taxes. If a former homeowner knows that they will have to pay 20 percent of their income to a creditor then it reduces their incentive to work in the same way as if they had a 20 percentage point increase in their tax rate. This provides a powerful disincentive to work or an incentive to work off the books. The negative economic impact of harsh bankruptcy rules on economic output is rarely discussed.

 
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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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