Dean Baker

Recent Articles

Cooking Unemployment Data to Make the U.S. Look Better

Laurent Guerby made a post on the prior topic about European-U.S. unemployment comparisons, I was just at a conference sponsored by the OECD where exactly this issue came up. The basic point is that proponents of the U.S. model want to add people in employment training programs and disability roles in Europe to their official unemployment rates for purposes of international comparisons. This seems bogus on several grounds. First, the employment training programs are obviously heavily subsidized by the government (often 100 percent), but there are many situations in the U.S. where jobs enjoys substantial government subsidies. The EITC peaks at more than 35 percent of wages, throwing in work related child care benefits can easily push the subsidy to more than half of the wage. At what point do we say that the job is simply concealing unemployment, a 60 percent subsidy?, an 80 percent subsidy?, or does it have to be 100 percent? Furthermore, what if the government paid the full wage, and...

Is Bernanke Promoting Inflation?

There is an interesting aspect to the recent rise in the inflation rate that the media have not really explored. The biggest factor in the higher than expected May measure was a jump in rent. (The two rental indices, owners' equivalent rent and rent proper, account for nearly 40 percent of the core consumer price index [CPI].) One explanation for more rapid increases in rents is that people who cannot afford to buy houses, due to higher mortgage rates, are now looking to rent. The Census Bureau's data on vacancy rates gives us evidence to support this position. Rental vacancy rates have fallen by almost a full percentage point from their record high 10.4 percent in the first quarter of 2004. At the same time, the vacancy rate in ownership units has increased from 1.7 percent to 2.1 percent over this period. (There are twice as many ownership units as rental units, so the overall vacancy rate is basically the same over this period.) Insofar as this story is true, it implies a very...

Great Political Caricature, Courtesy of David Brooks

In his New York Times column today, "Changing Bedfellows", David Brooks did a far better job describing the nanny state conservatives' framing of economics than I could ever hope to do in my book. Of course, he ostensibly was saying how the world actually is, rather than how the nanny state conservatives want us to see it. According to Brooks, we have the populist nationalists who argue against immigration and trade, and want to ensure workers' security through Social Security and national health care insurance. This group includes Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, Al Sharpton and Kevin Phillips. On the other side, we have the progressive globalists, who want to expand trade and allow immigration in order to promote economic growth. This group includes Hillary Clinton, Mark Warner, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. It's great caricature, a perfect example of the framing that I criticized in my book, The Conservative Nanny State : How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer [...

Is Alan Blinder a Protectionist?

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne is a decent person, whose views on many issues I share, but his column today is almost a caricature. It perfectly demonstrates why liberals/progressives are so lost on economic policy. Dionne notes the collapse of good-paying jobs in the auto industry, the manufacturing sector, and increasingly other sectors due to trade and outsourcing. He then cites a recent article by Princeton University professor and former Fed Vice-Chairman Alan Blinder (identified as "no protectionist") warning that the trend toward declining wages due to competition with the developing world is likely to spread to more sectors in the future. The implicit question that Dionne then poses is "how can we maintain middle class living standards without being hoary protectionists?" The answer of course is that Alan Blinder, Bill Clinton and the other "free traders" referred to in the article are in fact protectionists. They just don't own up to it. The competition that our...

Joe Six-Pack's Stock Portfolio?

"Experts" get away with saying almost any nonsense they like when it comes to talking about the stock market and the economy, but I think that we may have hit a new high today. A Times article today quotes Mark Cliffe, global head of financial markets research at ING Group in London, saying that the U.S. stock market has fallen 5-6 percent this year. The expert adds that if it falls another 5 percent, it could affect consumer spending and "‘Joe-Six' could start to cut back his stock portfolio." Okay, there could be a wealth effect from lower stock prices on consumption, but this usually takes some period of time. Furthermore, wasn't the purpose of supply-side tax cuts (as in President Bush's tax cuts) to increase saving? In other words, we are supposed to believe that less consumption is bad when it happens because the stock market falls, but good when it is due to a tax cut. (More savings MEANS less consumption.) But part 2 of this quote is the real fun -- Joe Six-Pack's stock...

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