CEPR News April 2013

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Written by Dawn Lobell   
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 14:45

The following highlights CEPR's latest research, publications, events and much more.

CEPR on Venezuela
CEPR closely followed the April 14, 2013, elections in Venezuela, live-blogging the election and the follow-up, as well as providing research and analysis both before and after election day.

CEPR Co-director Mark Weisbrot released this press release on the narrow victory of Nicolás Maduro over Henrique Capriles, and he wrote several op-eds calling on the U.S. to recognize the election results. As Mark pointed out, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter last year called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world”. “President Obama should not play politics with this one” he wrote, noting that  Venezuela’s voting system is very secure, with 54.3 percent of the machines subject to a random paper ballot audit by the National Electoral Council (on which the opposition is represented)”. 

Mark offered further post-election analysis of the U.S.’s refusal to recognize the results of election, here in The Guardian and here in Folha de São Paulo (Brazil). “Recent events indicate that the Obama administration has stepped up its strategy of ‘regime change’ against the left-of-center governments in Latin America, promoting conflict in ways not seen since the military coup that Washington supported in Venezuela in 2002” wrote Mark.

Prior to the election, CEPR corrected media misrepresentations of the Venezuelan economy. Mark wrote an op-ed for Al Jazeera titled “Haters Gonna Hate: Rory Carroll's Venezuela on NPR” that countered the Guardian reporter’s claims that "Venezuela is a country of extremes - and extreme inequality”. Mark reiterated these views in interviews with the PBS NewsHour and Democracy Now! (where he appeared with Rory Carroll). Mark also appeared on Counterpoint radio. CEPR Senior Associate for International Policy Alexander Main, who was in Venezuela monitoring the election, was interviewed by several news oulets including Democracy Now, Al Jazeera’s Inside Story Americas, Free Speech Radio News, WBAI, Sojourner Truth Radio, Alternet Radio Hour and Houston’s KOOP.

In addition to offering pre- and post-election live blogging – which brought a record number of visitors to CEPR’s website, and was widely discussed on Twitter – CEPR’s Americas Blog provided additional analyses and reactions to the election. Guest blogger George Ciccariello-Maher wrote this post debunking myths circulating about so-called ‘civil society’ in Venezuela. CEPR research Assistant Stephan Lefebre wrote this post on former president of Brazil Lula da Silva’s warm and unequivocal endorsement of Nicolás Maduro prior to the election. Mark and International Communications Director Dan Beeton each weighed in with analysis of the opposition’s refusal to recognize the results – supported by Washington – and related post-election violence.

The Americas Blog’s most recent entry offers astatistical analysis that shows that if Venezuelan opposition claims that Nicolás Maduro's victory was obtained by fraud were true, it is practically impossible to have obtained the result that was found in an audit of 53% of electronic voting machines that took place on the evening of Venezuela’s April 14 elections. The post is a preview of a forthcoming paper and was also the subject of a press release last week that received notice in Latin America and was picked up by numerous outlets including Telesur, as well as the Dow Jones Newswire.

CEPR on Reinhart and Rogoff and the Excel Error Heard ‘Round the World
CEPR Co-director Dean Baker was one of the first to call attention to the paper by a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts economics department critiquing a widely-cited paper by Harvard economists Reinhart and Rogoff on the relationship between public debt and GDP growth . The paper, by University of Massachusetts grad student Thomas Herndon and two professors, Michael Ash and CEPR board president Robert Pollin, found that a series of data errors and unsupportable statistical techniques led to an inaccurate representation of the actual relationship between public debt levels and GDP growth.

Soon it seemed that the whole world was talking about the error, and for good reason as Dean noted in several articles, op-eds and blog posts including this one for Yahoo!Finance. As Dean wrote, “the Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff (R&R) paper purported to show that countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent see sharply slower growth rates, and has been widely cited in policy discussions in the United States and Europe and used as a rationale for a near-term focus on deficit reduction.” And as Dean stated in the Huffington Post “"This is a mistake that has had enormous consequences…If facts mattered in economic policy debates, this should be the cause for a major reassessment of the deficit reduction policies being pursued in the United States and elsewhere." Dean was also quoted in U.S. News and World Report and the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch.

Dean wrote about the Reinhart and Rogoff errors (and critiqued R&R’s explanatory op-eds) in his own op-eds for Truthout and Caixin Online, and in numerous posts in Beat the Press (for example here and here). This Beat the Press post looking at how much unemployment was caused by R&R’s mistake was noticed by Robert Samuelson, writing this in his column: “How much unemployment was caused by Reinhart and Rogoff’s arithmetic mistake? That’s the question millions will be asking, suggests Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank. Actually, millions won’t ask, and the answer is: probably none.” Here is Dean’s measured reply. 

Dean also made a point in this CEPR Blog post that it is notable that it was a grad student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who uncovered the error. As Dean wrote, “economists at UMass are less willing to adhere to the norms of the mainstream of the profession. They are more willing to challenge the received wisdom from the top economists in the profession without according them the deference they typically receive from less established economists.”

Which may be one of the reasons that Thomas Herndon was invited to appear on the Colbert Report to discuss the paper. Please note that at one point Stephen Colbert mentions Dean’s 2010 questioning of Rogoff and Reinhart’s research (more here). Yes, CEPR confirms that Dean is the heretofore unnamed economist mentioned in the clip who in 2010, asked for - and was denied - access to the data.

CEPR on Good Jobs and Part-time Workers

CEPR released “Making Jobs Good”, the latest in CEPR’s series of “good jobs” reports. The April paper, written by CEPR Senior Economist John Schmitt and Research Associate Janelle Jones, evaluates the likely impact of several policies that seek to address job quality, including universal health insurance, a universal retirement system (over and above Social Security), a large increase in college attainment, a large increase in unionization, and gender pay equity.

John and Janelle’s 2012 paper “Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?”  was cited in this recent piece in Salon on a planned walk out by Chicago fast food and retail workers.

In addition, John was quoted in this New York Times article on part-time work: “The only remaining legal form of discrimination in the labor market is against part-time workers,” said John Schmitt, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal research organization. “You can hire part-time workers and full-time workers doing the same job, and you’re allowed to pay them different money and different benefits.”
 
CEPR on Haiti
CEPR's recent paper, "Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Aid Transparency and Accountability in Haiti" identifies significant problems with the delivery of U.S. aid in Haiti and finds an overall lack of transparency on how the billions of dollars obligated for U.S. assistance to Haiti are being used. The report, by CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston and Senior Associate for International Policy Alexander Main, examines the effectiveness of U.S. assistance to Haiti, how it is being administered, to what extent it is adhering to the “USAID Forward” reform agenda and what steps can be taken to ensure its more effective and transparent delivery.

The paper received attention from the press, including Reuters, Inter Press Service, Global Post and this piece from the Associated Press that was picked up by ABC News and dozens of other outlets. Jake was interviewed by WPFW (Washington, D.C.) and other radio programs about the paper.
 
CEPR on Social Security
As Dean said in a recent statement, President Obama’s proposal to adopt a chained CPI for the calculation of Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) would amount "to a substantial cut to Social Security benefits." Dean wrote about the chained CPI in this piece for Al Jazeera. He also wrote this post for the CEPR Blog, taking down the elites’ claim that cuts to Social Security and Medicaid are necessary to “save the children”, while in this Beat the Press post he wonders why Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson aren’t calling for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to construct a full elderly index to calculate the cost of living for seniors (since they claim that they are only concerned about accuracy). Meanwhile CEPR Senior Research Associate Shawn Fremstad notes in this CEPR Blog post that switching to the chained CPI will end up hurting low income people, even with suggested exemptions.

Dean discussed Obama’s budget on the Diane Rehm Show and he particpated in a panel discussion on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry on the chained CPI. Dean also discussed Social Secutiy on To the Point, while CEPR’s Director of Domestic Policy Nicole Woo took to the radio waves with interviews for
FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)’s Counterspin, Alternet Radio Hour and Fighting Bob Radio.
 
CEPR on Honduras
A new report from CEPR and Rights Action raises new questions regarding a May 11, 2012 DEA-related counternarcotics operation in which four Afro-indigenous civilians were killed and others were wounded in Honduras’ Moskitia region. The authors, Alexander Main and Rights Action Co-Director Annie Bird, look at how the Honduran Public Ministry's investigation of the incident was conducted and examine the report on the investigation that the Honduran Attorney General (Fiscal general in Spanish) submitted to the U.S. State Department. The authors find that both the investigation and report have serious flaws including major omissions of key testimony and forensic exams, a one-sided description and analysis of events, and "observations" (in lieu of conclusions) that aren't supported by the evidence that is cited. This brief follows an earlier paper by the same authors, “Collateral Damage of a Drug War,” that was published in August of 2012.
 
Human rights attorney Lauren Carasik wrote an op-ed for Truthout citing the paper, and CEPR Director of International Communications Dan Beeton wrote this post summarizing the paper for the the Americas Blog. Alex Main also discussed Honduras’ police death squads in an interview with Talk Back on WBAI FM (New York).
 
CEPR’s Director Watch Needs Your Help!
For those of you who haven’t heard, The Huffington Post has agreed to partner with CEPR to host a new website called Director Watch. Director Watch will bring to light the names of people serving on corporate boards who get large paychecks even as the companies they oversee are going down the tubes. We’re happy that the Huffington Post has graciously agreed to host Director Watch… just need to raise the funds to get the site up and running (we need to hire staff to research the initial entries). We’re closing in…we need only $4,600 to meet our $17,000 goal. Can you help?

We need to make our $17,000 goal in order to receive all of the funds donated so far. It’s a huge sum for us, but a drop in the bucket compared to the $96,000,000 salary that Oracle CEO Lawrence J. Ellison earned in 2012. That figure was twice as much as what he earned in 2011…yes, he received a hefty raise even though Oracle’s stock dropped 22 percent in fiscal 2012. And $17,000 is about the same amount as Erskine Bowles pulled in for an hour or two of labor as a director at Morgan Stanley (which also lost value under his and the other board members’ watchful eyes.)

As Dean recently stated: “The point of Director Watch is let everyone know that the Erskine Bowles of the world are not decent honorable types who warrant public respect, but rather key accomplices in the corruption at the top of corporate America. With Director Watch, someone will be watching.”

Please click here and support Director Watch.
 
News from the CEPR Blogosphere:
 
CEPR Blog

CEPR Domestic Intern Will Kimball wrote this post on too big to fail banks (hint: they are doing well). Dean wrote this post on the day after tax day, taking the media to task on taxes.

Dean wrote the following post outlining a CEPR success story:

“New Mexico Republican Governor Susana Martinez signed legislation last week that overhauled the state's public pension system. This was a big deal because New Mexico had one of the largest funding gaps, relative to the size of the state's economy, of any state in the country. There was pressure from the right for big cutbacks or even the elimination of defined benefit pensions altogether. 

CEPR's work in this area proved very useful. I went to New Mexico and spoke with many of the leaders in the legislature and addressed the relevant committees of the state House and Senate. They were willing to move forward with the plan because they felt comfortable that the return assumptions applied to the plans were reasonable and derived from a realistic assessment of the future prospects of the economy and the stock market.”

The Americas Blog: Analysis Beyond the Echo Chamber
Jake wrote this post on Argentina and vulture funds, following up on his and CEPR International Intern’s Arthur Phillips March blog post titled “Argentina vs. the Vultures: What You Need to Know”.
Stephan wrote that a federal district court has ruled that the Obama administration must declassify records with the names of individuals trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas or SOA. 

And here is CEPR International Program Assistant Sara Kozameh on the Vatican, Pinochet and Chile’s coup.
 
In Other CEPR News...
--Dean takes down the New York Times for this article on Denmark, while in this op-ed he explains how the US could reduce unemployment by taking lessons from Germany.

--Mark discussed “What Next for the Eurozone? Macroeconomic Policy and the Recession” withPrakash Loungani — an advisor in the IMF’s Research Department, co-chair of the IMF’s Working Group on Jobs and Growth, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s council on employment issues —in a well-attended public event during the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank. Jo Marie Griesgraber of the New Rules for Global Finance Coalition moderated. Video of the discussion can be viewed here.

--Dean was on Bloomberg TV last night, talking about the housing market. CEPR released its Housing Market Monitor today, showing that price increases accelerated in February, driven in large part by rapid price growth in the bottom tier of the market.

--CEPR Senior Economist Eileen Appelbaum wrote this op-ed for The Hill, noting that the “Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013” proposed by House Republicans “rrehashes legislation Republicans passed in the House in 1997, some 16 years ago, and that they introduced again in most subsequent Congresses. Its major effect would be to hamstring workers – likely increasing overtime hours for those who don’t want them and cutting pay for those who do.”

--Nicole appeared on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story Americas in a segment titled “
Fast Food: High Profits and Low Wages”. Nicole, who joins at 7:30, discussed the minimim wage.

--Mark was interviewed on the “Legacy of Margaret Thatcher” on Sojourner Truth (KPFK, Los Angeles) and RT’s “The Big Picture” with Thom Hartmann.

--Dean wrote a column for Al Jazeera examining proposed “free trade” deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement. Dean notes that the trade pacts have little to do with free trade but have much to do with enshrining patent, copyright and other costly protections; that corporations are heavily involved in crafting the deals’ texts, which are meanwhile kept secret even from the U.S. Congress; and that the pacts will further redistribute income upward.

Tags: Haiti | jobs | Reinhart-Rogoff | Social Security | venezuela