Dean Baker

Recent Articles

They Still Haven't Heard of Patents at the NYT

David Leonhardt had a column discussing overuse of expensive medical care in the NYT today. Remarkably, this discussion did not mention the effect of patents in complicated decisions on treatment and raising costs. Patents are essential to this discussion for two reasons. First, drugs and medical tests that are very expensive are generally expensive because of government granted patent monopolies, not their inherent cost. For example, a new generation of cancer drugs that can cost tens of thousands per year would be relatively cheap in the absence of patent protection. These drugs were expensive to develop, but once they have been developed, the production is cheap. By forcing patients to pay the high patent protected price, an otherwise simple decision (use the cheap drug) can instead be made very complicated. The other reason why patents play such an important role in this discussion is that they give a party (the patent holder) a huge stake in misrepresenting the issues. Because...

California Gets a Bad Rap on Pensions in NYT

California has done some really really stupid things (like a tax credit for first time homebuyers ), but the NYT did the state and its readers a disservice in going after California's pension fund liabilities. The basic story is that if you assume a 4.14 nominal rate of return on pension fund assets, then the state's pension liabilities look really really bad. The big question that readers should ask is, so what? There have been few people who have been more critical of assuming exaggerated market returns than me, but 4.14 percent nominal? Anyone want to take a bet that California's pension funds will do better than this? Look, the market has plummeted from its prior levels. This is good news for future returns. Lower price to earnings ratios open the door for higher future returns. The logic is simple: you are paying much less for each dollar of profits. For this reason, the assumption of 4.14 percent average nominal returns (that gives us just over 2.0 percent real, assuming a 2.0...

David Brooks' Celebration: The U.S. Is Richer Than Chad!

Okay, it's not quite that bad, but when someone who pretends to be serious wants his readers to celebrate the fact that: "the average American worker is nearly 10 times more productive than the average Chinese worker," it's getting pretty silly. (Actually it's probably closer than 7-8 times, but this is David Brooks we're talking about.) People in the United States are used to comparing their living standards to countries like Canada and Germany, not China. While China is a rapidly developing country, it is still a relatively poor country in a process of catching up. It's more than a bit silly to tell people in the United States that our productivity is many times higher than that of a poor peasant agricultural worker in central China. Brooks seems fascinated by the fact that our income is on average projected to rise. This is true and always has been true and it is true for almost every other country in the world. Incomes rise, incomes rise, incomes rise. Let's say that a few...

Response to DeLong Review of False Profits

I don't ordinarily use BTP for addressing items that mention me or my work, but I'll make an exception in the hope of getting a good exchange going. Brad DeLong was good enough to begin a review of my book False Profits on his blog. After graciously giving me credit for recognizing the housing bubble and the dangers it posed, Brad goes on: "But let me start by saying how I disagree with the book. I think that its story of the linkages between our current crisis and Federal Reserve policy is significantly overstated. Its argument about how excessively-low interest rates caused the housing bubble is exaggerated. I think that its belief that the Federal Reserve could have taken much more action to curb the housing bubble while is underway is also exaggerated, and does not recognize the very real constraints that the Federal Reserve works under and all but ignores the costs of austerity. And it overstates the strength of the links between the housing bubble and the housing crash on the...

Inventing a Surge of Job Seekers

A front page Washington Post article told readers that: "The number of people looking for jobs rose by more than 200,000 last month compared with February, according to the Economic Policy Institute -- and that's a good sign, economists say. It means that Americans are seeing more jobs being created and that they're optimistic about their prospects." Umm, actually no. This increase in the size of the labor force is too small to be statistically significant. It is not uncommon for there to be big jumps in the size of the labor force for no obvious reason. For example, the labor force was reported as rising by 543,000 people in September of 2002, a time when the economy was still shedding jobs and by 554,000 jobs in April of 2009, when employment was still plummeting. There is no reason to think that the modest job growth shown for March would have any notably effect on job seeking. --Dean Baker

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