Dean Baker

Recent Articles

NYT Joins Efforts to Scare Public About the Size of Government Debt

Peter Peterson, the billionaire Wall Street investment banker, is devoting more than $1 billion to a campaign to whip up fears about budget deficits in order to force cuts in Social Security and Medicare. It almost looks as though the NYT has joined the effort. It printed an article today that uses a measure of government debt that is explicitly designed to be misleading. The article reports on the debt of Greece, but then adds in a discussion of the debts of other countries, including the United States. The calculations are misleading because they compare future obligations over many decades to the current year's GDP. The honest way to do this calculation is to compare future obligations to projected GDP over the time horizon in which these obligations will be met. However, this calculation would produce a much lower ratio. (The debt in the case of the U.S. would be around 6 percent of GDP.) It is also worth noting that in the case of the United States, the vast majority of the...

Judd Gregg Argues for Higher Unemployment

The Washington Post reports that Senator Gregg does not know why the government is spending money to create jobs. According to the Post, Mr. Gregg said of a jobs bill: "Why do we keep doing this? .... Why do we keep passing debt on to our children? Why do we keep running program after program out here that is shrouded in sweetness and light but not paid for?" As every economist knows, the point of spending money in a downturn is to boost the economy and create jobs. If we raised taxes to pay for the spending then the spending would provide a much smaller boost to the economy. It would have been worth pointing out to readers that Mr. Gregg apparently has no knowledge of economics and is supporting policies that raise unemployment. The statements from Senator Gregg, about issues that directly affect the lives of millions of people, are far more worthy than other comments that the Post and other media outlets have opted to highlight, such as then Senator Obama's use of the word "bitter"...

Fannie and Freddie's Losses Are Profits at Goldman Sachs

In a discussion of the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the Washington Post noted that the government had committed $125 billion to cover their losses. While the article reports that these losses have been a major political issue, it would have been useful to point out that the losses were, in effect, subsidies to banks. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy mortgages in the secondary market. If they lose money it means that they paid banks more for these mortgages than they were worth. This overpayment is effectively a subsidy to banks who otherwise would have been left holding the mortgages on their books and likely would have incurred losses when they went bad. --Dean Baker

Eliminating Waste in Student Loans: Jobs at Risk

The NYT reports that opponents of a measure that would save money by putting private lenders out of the government guaranteed student loan business warn that it could cost jobs. This is of course true. Suppose there is an efficient computer company that sells computers for $500 each and an inefficient computer company that sell comparable computers for $1,000 each. It is likely that the inefficient computer company employs more workers for each computer produced than the efficient manufacturer. Therefore switching orders from the less efficient company to the more efficient company would cost jobs. This is effectively what is happening with the student loan program, except the more efficient provider happens to be the government. There is no more argument to obstruct this switch because of possible job loss than there would be to try to prevent people from buying goods from more efficient producers. This is economic growth. The people who lose their jobs should be reemployed where...

Protectionists Dominate Health Care Debate

Anyone seriously interested in controlling health care costs would be actively discussing alternatives to patent protection for financing the development of prescription drugs and medical equipment. Everyone who has taken even an intro economics class knows that there will be horrible waste and corruption when goods can sell for hundreds of times their competitive market price, as can be the case with prescription drugs and medical equipment. Those interested in controlling costs would also be actively seeking to promote international trade in medical services since the health care systems in other countries are so much more efficient than the U.S. system. Neither of these items even gets mentioned in David Leonhardt's discussion of the prospects for controlling health care costs. This is indicative of the incredible corruption of the public debate on health care reform. --Dean Baker