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The Fed Could Try Talking About Bubbles Print
Tuesday, 27 July 2010 07:04

The Washington Post had an article discussing the debate over how central banks can prevent future economic collapses like the current one. As is its practice, the Post relied exclusively on economists who were not able to see the crisis coming. As a result, it fundamentally misrepresents the crisis as being primarily financial in nature.

In fact, the main problem was that the housing bubble was driving the economy, generating $1.2 trillion in annual demand through construction and housing equity driven consumption. There is no easy mechanism through the economy can replace this much lost demand. That would be the case whether or not the collapse of the bubble was associated with a financial crisis.

The article also fails to list one of the most simple and obvious ways that central banks can combat a bubble: talk. During the run-up of the housing bubble, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan repeatedly said that everything was fine in the housing market, as did Ben Bernanke, who was a governor at the Fed for most of the period. This helped undermine the case of those who were warning of the bubble.

By contrast, if Greenspan had explicitly warned of the bubble and documented its existance and potential dangers with extensive research from the Fed staff, it may have been effective in containing its growth. The financial industry cannot simply ignore research from the Fed and there was no serious response to the evidence that the Fed could have presented.

There is no reason the Fed and other central banks cannot use the full capabilities of their research staff to attempt to counter dangerous financial bubbles. There is a virtually costless strategy with enormous potential payoffs.

 
If House Members Who Voted for Energy Bill Are Out on a Limb, It is Only Because of Bad Reporting Print
Tuesday, 27 July 2010 06:57
The Washington Post reported that House Democrats who voted for the energy bill are worried that it will hurt them in the election because their opponents have labeled it as a job killer. It would have been worth noting that there is no reason to believe that the bill would have led to a substantial loss of jobs. If opponents of the bill are able to score political points by describing the bill as a job killer it is only because the media have done a poor job in describing its impact.
 
Goldman's AIG Exposure Print
Tuesday, 27 July 2010 04:53

The NYT notes that recent documents suggest that Goldman Sachs was largely hedged against a potential AIG bankruptcy and that it had taken collateral from AIG and other counter-parties that would have almost fully compensated for any losses.

It is not clear that Goldman was as hedged as the documents suggest since, as the article mentions in passing, a bankruptcy court may not have clawed back some of the collateral posted. The other issue that would have been worth mentioning in this piece is that the government and Goldman resisted the release of documents at every point in this process. For 6 months after the initial bailout of AIG the government provided no information whatsoever about the counter-parties who had been paid with the money.

 
Why Did David Brooks' Pro-Growth Heros All Support the Policies that Gave Us the Economic Crisis? Print
Tuesday, 27 July 2010 04:39
I'm just asking. By the way, what measure is he using that shows that the United States has declining human capital? All the data with which I am familiar shows the workforce is getting more educated through time.
 
Is There a Shortage or Glut of Freight Shipping Capacity? Print
Tuesday, 27 July 2010 04:30

That is what readers of an NYT article on higher shipping fees for faster service must be wondering. The article tells readers that shippers now have a shortage of space because:

"With little demand for shipping, ocean carriers took ships out of service: more than 11 percent of the global shipping fleet was idle in spring 2009, according to AXS-Alphaliner, an industry consultant."

Okay, so we are seeing a big run-up in prices and, "fighting for freight, retailers are outbidding each other to score scarce cargo space on ships, paying two to three times last year’s freight rates — in some cases."

ummm, what happened to the 11 percent of shipping fleet that is now idle? The article does make a brief reference to this idle capacity later, noting that firms are reluctant to bring it back on line. This sounds a bit like a case of collusion to keep prices high. It might make for a good article by an enterprising reporter.

(I'm back from the DC power failure - 32 hours in my hood.)

 
Reporters Say the Darndest Things: CNN and Per Capita GDP Print
Sunday, 25 July 2010 14:18

CNN had a segment on inequality in Brazil in which it told viewers:

"The country's Gross Domestic Product -- the value of goods and services it produces -- was $2 trillion in 2009, the 10th largest in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. But per capita income for the same year was estimated at $10,200, the 105th highest in the world. Simply stated, most of the wealth being produced is not finding its way down to most Brazilians."

Actually, per capita income reveals nothing about inequality. It is simply GDP divided by the population. Brazil has a relatively low per capita income because it has a large population. The number for per capita income would be the same if everyone had the same income or one person had it all.

The piece could have referred to Brazil's Gini index, which is a measure on inequality. At 56.7, it is one of the highest in the world, although it has been dropping in recent years.

(HT to Robert Naiman.)

 

 
The Post Cleans Up for Republican Tax Cutters Print
Sunday, 25 July 2010 07:13

The lead article in the Sunday Post reported on the battle over extending President Bush's tax cuts. At one point it told readers that: "because they [the tax cuts] were expected to eventually cause huge deficits, Republicans wrote them to expire in 2010."

Actually the story is somewhat more pernicious. President Bush had set a budget target for his tax cuts. Had they run through 2011 the cost would have exceeded his target. Therefore they wrote the law so that the cuts ended in 2010, keeping the 10-year cost within his target.

The article also includes the bizarre statement: "And with unemployment at 9.5 percent, even some Democrats are queasy about raising taxes on high earners -- a category that includes many small-business owners -- when policymakers are trying to encourage them to create jobs."

Actually, there is little evidence that raising taxes on high income households will have any notable impact on job creation. (Job growth was quite rapid under the Clinton era tax rates.) Furthermore, many of the Democrats who oppose raising taxes on the wealthy have opposed many or all of President Obama's stimulus measures, indicating that they have little concern about job creation.

It is certainly more plausible that these politicians are worried about campaign contributions from high income households, an issue that remarkably was never mentioned once in this article.

 
The Washington Post Confuses Supporters of Lower Pay for Auto Workers With Supporters of the Free Market Print
Sunday, 25 July 2010 07:00

In an article that discussed the two-tier pay system that Chrysler and GM adopted as part of their rescue plan, the Post told readers that the debate over autoworkers' wages during the bailout pitted "the advocates of the free market against those for a 'fair wage.'" Actually, there was no one in this debate advocating a free market. Those who wanted to see the wages of union auto workers cut were still very supportive of the licensing and professional restrictions that protect doctors and other highly paid professionals from foreign competition. These people also support other major forms of interference with market outcomes such as copyrights and patent protection.

The only clearly recognizable view held by those who insisted that autoworkers wages lowered to $14 an hour was that they wanted to see autoworkers get paid less money. The Post should simply report what people say and not attribute an ideology to them which almost certainly does not fit reality.  

 
Another Front Page Editorial on Deficits at the Washington Post Print
Saturday, 24 July 2010 09:59

Sometimes the Post just leaves readers speechless. It has a front page article with the headline: "GOP finds grist for campaigns in projections of record deficits [this headline only appears in the print edition]."
The article goes on to explain how Republicans are yelling about the new record deficits.

There are two striking features to this article. First, Republicans have criticized President Obama for everything under the sun, including a speech encouraging children to work hard in school. That the Republicans are critical of the latest budget projections is not news and certainly not front page news. Although it might merit a front page story if they did not criticize the projections.

The other striking feature of this story is that the front page only presented the Republican criticisms. Only those who read to the jump page saw that Democrats response that the deficits were the result of the economic collapse in 2008. Even this point is largely left as a matter of "he said, she said," rather than being reported as the fact that it is.

 
Goldman Sachs Finds Cutting Government Spending Slows Growth, Post Columnist Michael Gerson Says Opposite Print
Saturday, 24 July 2010 08:30

The folks who thought the housing bubble was cool are now working overtime to make the victims of its collapse suffer as much as possible. This presumably explains the reason that Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson claimed that a Goldman Sachs study of 44 countries found that a study of 44 countries found that: "reducing government expenditures by one percentage point, in contrast, increases average annual growth by 0.6 percentage points."

What the study actually found was that a one percentage point decline in government consumption expenditures was associated with a 0.63 percent increase in growth. However, it found that a one percentage point increase in government investment expenditures (spending on education, research, infrastructure etc. ) was associated with a 1.25 percentage point increase in growth. This would mean, for example, that a one percentage point decline in spending that was split evenly between cuts to government consumption and cuts to investment would lead to 0.31 percentage point decline in GDP growth.

There are reasons that this study is inapplicable to current circumstances. Most notably, the bulk of the benefit from spending cuts appears to come through the channel of lower interest rates inducing more investment. This is unlikely to be a important channel given that interest rates are already extremely low, however, even ignoring this issue, Gerson has seriously misrepresented the findings of the study that he cited.  

 
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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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