Dean Baker

Recent Articles

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...

Budget Deficits and Current Account Deficits

A New York Times story on Iceland provides a good opportunity to discuss the asymmetry in reporting on government budget deficits and national current account deficits. While news of the budget deficit routinely appears prominently on the front pages (in addition to occupying considerable space on editorial and op-ed pages) discussion of the current account deficit is generally relegated to the inner pages of the business section. Since the long-term impact of the two on the economy is comparable, there is little justification for the difference in treatment. This is another Econ 101 story. A budget deficit is supposed to be bad because it pulls money away from other more productive purposes. Specifically it is supposed to raise interest rates and thereby crowd out private investment. (The deficit hawks have a hard time telling this story at present, with real interest rates in the U.S. at near post-war lows.) The result is slower growth and a poorer country in the long-term. There is...

The "Theft" of Health Care by Immigrants: Does It Matter?

The New York Times ran a front page story on Sunday that could have been a case study of why it is essential to put budget numbers in context. The article, " Medicaid Rule For Immigrants May Bar Others ," explains how new rules intended to prevent illegal immigrants from getting Medicaid may also prevent many eligible beneficiaries from getting assistance. The problem is that many low income people don't possess the necessary documentation (e.g. drivers licenses or birth certificates) needed to receive Medicaid under the new rules. The key flaw in an otherwise excellent article is the brief reference to the potential budget savings from the new rules. The article reports that the Congressional Budget Office projects the savings as $220 million over five years and $735 million over ten years. Many readers may have been misled into thinking that this is real money. The projected savings are equal to 0.0015 percent of projected spending over the next five years and 0.0022 percent of...

Immigration: Die at the Border and Open Borders

I want to follow up quickly to a couple of notes on my posting where I referred to the "Die at the Border" policy. I was not arguing for open borders. I don't think that anyone who has given the issue serious thought advocates open borders, since a literal open border policy would almost certainly imply an inflow of hundreds of millions of people in the next couple of decades. My point is that we don't have open borders; instead we have very serious limitations on immigration. Immigration is restricted both by the danger of the border crossing and the prospect of deportation due to a random encounter with law enforcement (e.g. a traffic ticket). These threats ensure that most immigrants will not be well-educated, since well-educated people in the developing world will not take these risks to work in the United States. This means that less-skilled workers in the United States have to worry about competition from undocumented workers, while the people who design and debate immigration...

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