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Businesses Are Not Hiring Because of a Lack of Demand, Not Confidence Print
Thursday, 22 July 2010 08:42
USA Today wrongly told readers that: "private employers are uncertain about the economy's health and are hesitant to add jobs." The uncertainty of businesses does not explain their reluctance to add workers. If this were the case, then businesses would be increasing the number of hours worked per worker. While average weekly hours are up somewhat from the low hit last fall, they are still down by 0.7 hours from their pre-recession level. This indicates that firms are not hiring because they have no need of additional labor.
 
Post Headline Declares Obama Winner With Chamber of Commerce Print
Thursday, 22 July 2010 04:58
But the article did not quite support the headline. Businesses always want more from the government. As the article points out, the Chamber of Commerce has won some big battles in limiting aspects of the financial reform bill, the health care bill, and other pieces of legislation. Naturally, the Chamber will complain about its losses and insist that business is being attacked, but this is a political tactic, not reality. The Post's headline writers should know this.
 
Small Business: The Source of the Vast Majority of Job Losses Print
Thursday, 22 July 2010 04:34

Politicians routinely praise small business as the source of all good. In reality, small businesses, just like large businesses, are a mixed bag. While they can be a source of economic dynamism and good jobs, many small business owners rip off their workers and their customers, cheat on their taxes, and contribute little of value to the economy before they fail.

It is the job of the media to report on small business with clear eyes, not just repeat happy-talk nonsense from politicians. Therefore, it was disappointing to read a NYT article on a package of special loans and tax breaks for small businesses that began:

"Perhaps the last best hope of Democrats to pass legislation aimed at creating jobs before the November elections seemed to be crumbling in the Senate on Wednesday as Republicans signaled that they would block a bill to expand government lending programs and grant an array of tax breaks to small businesses."

Why would the article assume that the bill is "aimed at creating jobs?" Yes, this is what the politicians said about the bill. But --- hold onto your hats boys and girls -- politicians sometimes say things that are not true.

An alternative explanation is that politicians want to give money to small businesses, a constituency that can be very influential in many upcoming congressional races. Many of the features of this package, such as tax breaks that apply to past actions, look more like measures to give businesses money than to create jobs.

Rather than attributing motives, it would be more appropriate to simply report the bill's contents and what various parties say about it.

 
The New York Times Doesn't Like the Welfare State in the UK Print
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 13:58

That is what readers of the article on David Cameron, the new Prime Minister would be led to believe. After all, the piece told readers that the previous Labor government's policies had turned:

"...Britain into one of the most heavily taxed, tightly regulated countries in the developed world, with government accounting for about half the work force and half of the economy."

The NYT's assertion is at odds with the data. In 2008 (the last year for which full data are available), according to the OECD, the share of government expenditures in GDP in the UK was 47.5%. This is slightly above the 45.6 percent average for the European countries in the OECD, but below the 52.7 percent share in France, the 50.1percent share in Belgium and the 48.7 percent share in Italy. In other words, the government share of the economy in the UK is somewhat above the average for wealthy European countries, but certainly not at the top in this category.

The article also told readers that government employment accounts "...for about half the work force." According to the Office of National Statistics in the U.K., public employment accounts for 21.1 percent of total employment.

The article includes numerous other comments that only serve to express disapproval of the UK welfare state rather than provide information. For example, it describes the new government's effort to "dismantle Britain’s sprawling bureaucracy." No less information would be provided without the word "sprawling."

At one point it reports on plans to establish: "...independent but publicly financed schools in which head teachers and their staff would be freed from the stifling oversight of local councils and the central education authorities." The same information could be provided without the word "stifling." 

Clearly the New York Times supports the agenda of the new government, but expressions of support for a government or political party belong the editorial page, not the front page.

 

 

 
USA Today Goes off the Deep End on the Estate Tax Print
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 09:31

USA Today had a major story warning that middle-class families may be hit by the estate tax. It warns that people with estates of just a million will be subject to the tax if the law is not changed. The article never points out that the tax will only affect the amount of the estate over $1 million, nor does it mention that the exemption is per person, so that a couple can easily pass $2 million on to their heirs and escape all tax liability. In short, this article gave readers absolutely no idea of the issues involved and it is likely to make many people, who will at most be trivially affected by the estate tax, to believe that they face serious liability.

The article also bizarrely asserts that partisanship has prevented a resolution of the issue. This is not true as can be clearly seen from the evidence presented in the article. While most Republicans support lowering or eliminating the estate tax, there are also some Democrats who have held out for lower rates. The article presents no evidence whatsoever that partisanship is preventing a resolution, as opposed to a conflict between people who want to pay lower taxes and others who want them to pay higher taxes.

 

 
Owning Versus Renting: It Matters If You Are In a Bubble Print
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 07:33

This article discusses the Obama administration's housing policy, which seems to be moving away from an exclusive focus on homeownership. The article notes that many moderate-income people who bought homes in the last decade ended up losing them.

It would have been worth mentioning the housing bubble in this context. In many cases, it might have made sense for families, in principle, to become homeowners in the years 2002-2007, but not when it meant purchasing homes at bubble-inflated prices. The bubble could have been easily detected by a simple examination of price-to-rent ratios and other fundamentals. Unfortunately, the vast majority of housing professionals, including the people at HUD and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, were too lazy to do this sort of assessment. As a result, millions of moderate-income families bought homes that they were not able to keep.

 
If Business Confidence Explained Lack of Hiring, Then Hours Per Worker Would Be Increasing Print
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 07:27

Business people always want more money. That is part of a being in business. (Has Goldman Sachs or General Electric ever said they want lower profits?) This means that their spokespeople can be counted on to complain about taxes, regulations, wages or anything else that costs them money. Sometimes what they say is not true.

This can be clearly seen with current complaints that fears about regulation and higher taxes are discouraging hiring. This claim can be easily tested. If firms are in a situation where they would be hiring except for these fears, then we should be seeing an increase in the average number of hours worked per worker. We are not seeing an increase in hours worked that is at all out of line with prior recoveries. In fact, in the June data, hours worked fell. 

Reporters should examine whether the claims of business people are plausible instead of just repeating them.

 
Estate Tax: Can You Say "Marginal Rate?" Print
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 07:19

Market Place radio did a segment on the estate tax this morning and neglected to tell listeners that the tax is a marginal rate that only applies to the value of an estate above a cutoff. It also got the pre-Bush tax cut rate wrong.

Therefore when it told listeners that the estate tax will revert to the 2001 level next year if nothing is done, it likely left them hugely confused about the tax rate. The piece said that estates of more than $1 million would face a 55 percent tax rate. This would have led listeners to believe that an estate worth $1.1 million would face a tax liability of $605,000.

In fact, the first million would face no tax liability and the next $100,000 would be taxed at a 37 percent rate, making the total liability $37,000.

 

 
NYT Finds that Social Security Makes Overpayments Equal to 0.01 Percent of Its Spending to State Workers Print
Wednesday, 21 July 2010 07:05
The NYT devoted a story to an audit by Social Security's Inspector General that found the system pays $53.2 million annually more than it should to former state and local government employees. The overpayment stems from a failure to correctly offset pensions earned in government employment that is not covered by the Social Security system. 
 
Good Article in the WSJ on Bank Concentration Print
Tuesday, 20 July 2010 06:56
Too bad that they couldn't run it before the financial reform bill was approved.
 
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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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