Dean Baker

Recent Articles

Should Anyone Care About Consumer Confidence?

I have always considered the consumer confidence index to be one of the least valuable releases of economic data. Consumer spending is hugely important for the state of the economy, but the index provides very little information about the direction of spending. The index includes two components, a current situation component, which does track current spending reasonably well (and therefore has little predictive value about the future), and an expectations component which is highly volatile and has very little predictive value. The Times had a piece on the recent dip in consumer confidence this morning that backs up my view. The article includes a chart that shows the latest reading for the index is near its 2002 levels, when real consumer spending rose at a respectable 2.5 percent annual rate and the savings rate fell by more than a percentage point. In other words, a low consumer confidence index did not seem to have much impact on consumption growth. The index probably does give...

Washington Post Corrects Mexico's Post-NAFTA Growth Rate

It took 43 days, but the Washington Post did finally correct an April 17th news story that had Mexico's economy growing at a 17.5 percent annual rate in the period since the passage of NAFTA. This is longer than one would hope, and it required much more prodding from my colleagues at CEPR than should have been necessary, but it is still good to see that the paper felt a responsibility to correct such a blatant mistake. --Dean Baker

Immigrant Labor and Supply and Demand

The Times had an article this morning that explained the immigration problem in very simple terms, "this many jobs; only this many visas." As the article reports, there are a huge number of less-skilled jobs waiting to be filled by immigrants, but almost no visas are available for immigrants to come across the border and work at these jobs legally. To prove this case, the article quotes Stephen P. Gennett, president of the Carolinas chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (a builders' trade group), "we have a problem here, a people shortage." While Mr. Gennett is undoubtedly knowledgeable about the state of the labor market for construction workers, he also represents an organization that has a clear interest in this issue, they want cheap labor. Ordinarily, the claim that there is a people shortage would imply that wages are rising at an extraordinary rate. (This is the way economists ordinarily think about markets, shortages mean higher prices.) This means that...

Do Trade Agreements Have to Be "Free"

I am continually amazed by the apparent need that reporters feel to describe the trade agreements negotiated by the U.S. government as "free trade" agreements. (See the Times article on the Colombian elections for the current target of my wrath.) What possible additional information do reporters and editors believe that they are conveying by including the word "free?" As I have written elsewhere, these agreements do not free all trade -- there are still substantial obstacles facing Colombian doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who would like to sell their services in the United States. This agreement also increases protectionist barriers by stengthening patent and copyright protection. (Even if you think these protections are good, they are still forms of protection.) So, why don't these reporters just save themselves a word and more accurately describe these pacts as simply "trade agreements." --Dean Baker

Right Wing Law and Economics: Free Market Economics at NPR

National Public Radio had a piece this morning about how some think tanks committed to "law and economics" (applying economic principles to the law) were hosting seminars for judges. The segment asserted that these think tanks, which purportedly receive large contributions from the tobacco industry, the oil industry, and other industry lobbies, are committed to free market economics. This should have been one of those paid public relations spots that helps NPR pay the bills. The tobacco industry does not want to be held responsible for things like marketing to children or concealing evidence of the danger of cigarettes. The oil industry doesn't want to be held accountable for the damage that oil does to the environment. Since when is the effort to avoid being accountable for the damages you cause free market economics? If I burn down by neighbor's house (accidentally), and then argue in court that I shouldn't have to pay for rebuilding, is that free market economics? According to NPR...

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