Dean Baker

Recent Articles

More Fact Checking Problems at the Washington Post

Last Tuesday, I pointed out that a front page Washington Post article had overstated Mexico's growth in the post-NAFTA era by a factor of five ( Mexican Deportee's U.S. Sojourn Illuminates Roots of Current Crisis , 4-17-06:A1). It appears that the Post's problems with arithmetic are continuing. The front page of the Sunday Outlook section had an article that refers to the rise to power of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia ( Old States, New Threats , 4-23-06;E1). The article comments that "social tensions have exploded as a result of the unleashing of market economies that create rapid but uneven growth." Growth in Venezuela and Bolivia may have been uneven, but it certainly was not rapid. According to data from the Penn World Tables and the World Bank, per capita GDP in Venezuela was more than 10 percent lower when Hugo Chavez took office in 1998 than it had been in 1980. In Bolivia, per capita GDP had fallen by almost 15 percent between 1980 and 2005 (see also "...

"Protectionist," a Four Letter Word?

In many economic policy debates, the worst possible adjective is "protectionist." All right thinking people know that protectionism is bad. According to the economic in-crowd, only ignorant and reactionary people support protectionism measures. (The Post gives a nice example of this thinking in a piece explaining how the IMF will act to prevent protectionism in an economic crisis: " IMF Calls for Cooperation Ahead of Imbalances Meeting .") The image of hoary protectionism lurking on the horizon can be very effective for powerful interests seeking to push their agendas, but it has nothing to do with real world economic policy. The United States has all sorts of protectionist barriers, the most important of which apply to professional services like physicians' services and lawyers' services. These barriers take the form of licensing requirements that are deliberately designed to make it more difficult for foreign professionals to practice in the United States. If the United States was...

Inertia, Budget Reporting and Starving Children

I had earlier promised to give my explanation for the fact that articles on the budget fail to put budget numbers in a context that would make the millions, billions and trillions meaningful to readers. While laziness is part of the story, the bigger factor is simply inertia, why change? Reporters may agree that it would be very simple and more informative to express budget numbers as percentages of total spending or dollars (or cents) per person, but this is not how their papers did it last year. Including this information is a change, and doing things differently can put you on the spot. In short, since no one put budget numbers in context last year, no one will do it this year. There are forces that overcome inertia. For example, if inaccurate or incomplete reporting was giving readers a bad impression of Microsoft or the pharmaceutical industry, their lawyers and lobbyists would be haranguing reporters and editors on a daily basis, demanding a change in practice. While the media...

How Big Is China?

This is not a grand existential question; I am referring to the size of its economy. According to most news reports, China's GDP is approaching $2 trillion, rivaling Germany for the #3 ranking in the world, behind the United States and Japan. In fact, this figure grossly understates the size of China's economy. It is already far larger than Japan's economy and is likely to surpass the size of the U.S. economy in less than a decade. The error is simple. The standard number reported for China's GDP is based on a "currency conversion" measure of GDP. This method takes China's GDP, calculated in its own currency, and then converts this number into dollars, using the official exchange rate. However, China's currency is hugely under-valued, so this method provides a very poor measure of the value of goods and services produced in China each year. The method preferred by economists for most comparative purposes is a "purchasing power parity" measure. This measure adds up GDP by using the...

Surprising News on Mexico at the Washington Post

Readers of the Washington Post might have been surprised to read that since the passage of NAFTA, "Mexico's gross domestic product has ballooned, multiplying nearly seven-fold, from $108 billion in 1993 … to $748 billion in 2005" (" Mexican Deportee's U.S. Sojourn Illuminates Roots of Current Crisis ," 4-17-06:A1). This amounts to a world record 17.5 percent average annual rate of growth in the 12 years since NAFTA was implemented. Readers should be surprised to read this in a front page story in the Washington Post because it is not true. Mexico's economy has not "ballooned" since NAFTA. According to the IMF's most recent World Economic Outlook, Mexico's GDP grew by just 40.2 percent over this period, an average annual rate of 2.9 percent. This translates into per capita GDP growth of 1.3 percent a year. This is weak growth for any country, but it is especially weak for a developing country. (Mexico sustained per capita GDP growth of almost 4.0 percent annually from 1960-80.) This...

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