Dean Baker

Recent Articles

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...

Sick Europe and the Italian Elections

The elections in Italy prompted another round of knowing comments about how Europeans must get over their silly attachment to employment security (e.g. " Europe Stalls on Road to Economic Change "). None of the comments I saw even considered the possibility that the contractionary policies of the European Central Bank (ECB) play any role in Europe's economic weakness. The basic story here is fairly simple. While Alan Greenspan lowered the overnight interest rate in the United States to 1.0 percent in the summer of 2003, the ECB never lowered its overnight rate below 2.0 percent. This is in spite of the fact that inflation in the euro zone has been the same or lower than in the United States and the euro zone has consistently had higher rates of unemployment. The story does get more complicated (the Fed's overnight rate is now 4.75 percent, compared to 2.5 percent in the euro zone), but I would argue that the ECB has consistently been more contractionary than the Fed in its policies...

Immigrants and "Low Wage" Jobs

One of the great absurdities in the debate over immigration policy is the frequently repeated claim that the U.S. economy is generating more "low wage" jobs than can be filled by the domestic workforce. This line has been endlessly repeated in news stories on the issue. Quick trip back to econ 101: recall the concepts "supply" and "demand." What makes a job a "low wage" job? In econ 101 world, a job will be a "low wage" job if the supply is high relative to the demand. When there is insufficient supply, then the wage rises. My students didn't pass the course if they couldn't get this one right. Econ 101 tells us that there is not a shortage of workers for low wage jobs; it tells us that there are employers who want to keep the wages for these jobs from rising. Immigration has been one of the tools that have been used to depress wages for less-skilled workers over the last quarter century. Many of the "low-wage" jobs that cannot be filled today, such as jobs in construction and meat-...

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