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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press When Does the NYT Plan to Start Putting Budget Numbers in Context?

When Does the NYT Plan to Start Putting Budget Numbers in Context?

Tuesday, 17 December 2013 05:06

That is what millions are asking after reading this piece on the prospects of the recent budget deal in the Senate. At one point the piece tells readers:

"Under the budget deal, spending on defense and nondefense programs would rise from the $967 billion slated for this fiscal year to $1.012 trillion, mitigating the impact of across-the-board spending cuts and allowing congressional lawmakers to draft detailed spending plans for the first time in several years. Spending in fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, would rise from $995 billion to $1.014 trillion. Though total spending would rise $63 billion over 10 years, the measure would trim the deficit slightly."

Okay folks, can anyone make sense of this one? Let's see spending for fiscal 2015 would rise from $995 billion to $1.014 trillion, that's compared with the prior schedule. If we compare actual spending in 2015 with 2014 the increase in nominal dollars is $2 billion. If we assume 2.0 percent inflation, this would imply a drop in real terms of about 1.8 percent. If we assume 2.5 percent GDP growth, then spending would be falling as a share of GDP by around 4.3 percent.

Over the next ten years, with nominal GDP projected to grow more than 60 percent, the near freeze would imply a reduction in the affected areas of federal spending of close to 50 percent. Such cuts may be appropriate for military spending, where the need would presumably be proportionate to the threat posed by potential enemies. However it might be reasonable to expect that spending on research, transportation, and other components of discretionary spending would rise roughly in step with the economy, as they have historically. In this case, the current path of spending implies large cuts.

It's not likely many readers would have understood that the budget deal implies the continuation and extension of large cuts in domestic discretionary spending relative to its historic path. At the prompting of its public editor, Margaret Sullivan, the NYT committed itself to expressing numbers in a way that is meaningful to its readers. It's difficult to see any evidence of progress toward this end in this piece on the budget.

Comments (4)Add Comment
Reporting numbers in context would kill a lot of the misinformation voters get
written by jaaaaayceeeee, December 17, 2013 6:47

I must feel sometimes like repetitive or thankless analysis, but you are keeping entire generations, desperate for representative democracy, from going crazy (or giving up in the face of being called dirty hippies, professional left, or conspiracy theorists).
All Things Considered disappointed that Social Security and Medicare weren't cut
written by DHF, December 17, 2013 9:45
Ari Shapiro on ATC yesterday says that the budget deal is reasonable although the key drivers of spending, Social Security and Medicare, were not cut. NPR trying to sound serious.
written by Allan Dobbins, December 17, 2013 2:19
The explanation is probably that, even at the NYT, most of the reporters are not numerate.
Allan Dobbins, innumeracy is not the problem, with examples
written by jaaaaayceeeee, December 17, 2013 4:58

Here is a recent example, where reported plans for spending on transportation could have been informative to users, if using the Baker standard of reporting (you can search above, for arguably more urgent examples like Snap spending proposals or comparing spending proposals, to consider how reporters using the quick 'n easy budget calculator could inform debate on big issues like how much would it cost to implement full employment policies, once common from both Republicans and Democrats):


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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.