Dean Baker

Recent Articles

Depressing Our Way to Recovery

Deficit obsession is a sure recipe for sluggish growth.

Two and a half years after the official start of the recovery from the 1990--1991 recession, the U.S. economy is still experiencing weak growth and is generating relatively few jobs. (See the chart "A Feeble Recovery.") Employment has barely regained its pre-recession peak in 1990. More people who seek full-time work have had to settle for part-time employment. Comparatively well-paid manufacturing jobs continue to disappear, replaced by jobs in restaurants, hotels, and temporary employment agencies. Investment growth has also been the slowest of any postwar recovery. Yet remarkably, most of the nation's political leadership, whether Democratic, Republican, or Perotista, thinks the cure is further deficit reduction. A constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget by fiscal year 1999 (which begins in October 1998) has a very good chance of passing in this session of Congress. Conservative Democrats have joined Republicans in pushing the administration to accept deficit cuts...

After the Fall

A lan Greenspan is known for his guarded pronouncements, carefully crafted in order to soothe financial markets. But in his semiannual testimony before the House Banking Committee this February, Greenspan did not mince words. He pointedly explained why stock prices should only rise as fast as disposable income. This would imply a growth rate for stock prices of just 5 percent annually. For investors who have come to expect double-digit returns, this is quite a letdown. On closer inspection, the situation looks even worse. Currently, dividend payouts are only slightly higher than 1 percent. So if Greenspan is right, the total return from holding stock (dividends plus capital gains) will be around 6 percent, approximately the same yield offered by perfectly safe government bonds. It makes no sense to hold risky stock if the return is no better than on government bonds. This year some air has already come out of the inflated market. The NASDAQ is down about 30 percent from its peak, and...

Energy Insurance

T he vast majority of scientists who study climate issues now agree that carbon emissions are a potentially disastrous problem. However, economic fears have obstructed even the mildest remedies. Particularly in the United States, voters resist taxes that would raise fuel costs, and there has been little political support for massive investment in new technologies or mass transit systems. Yet there are also some less painful ways to cut greenhouse gases. One is to change how the nation buys its automobile insurance. If people paid for insurance on a per-mile basis, instead of in a lump sum, it would provide a substantial disincentive to drive--about the same disincentive as a $1.50 per-gallon gas tax. This in turn would reduce the number of miles driven by 10-20 percent. Less driving would mean fewer accidents, which would then lower the cost of insurance. So "clean" (pay by the mile) insurance may be the biggest free lunch...

Patent Medicine

A bsurdly high prices have put lifesaving prescription drugs out of reach for millions of Americans and for hundreds of millions of people in developing countries. In large part, patent protection is to blame. The patent system is a trade-off: Consumers pay a monopoly price on a drug for 17 years to provide incentives for firms to undertake research that yields large profits. But the patent system is not the only way to support drug research. Alternatives that have a proven track record of success already exist--specifically, research supported by foundations, universities, and the government. Shortening patent terms and putting most pharmaceutical research in the public domain would cut costs for consumers as well as for government. And contrary to industry propaganda, doing so would not reduce innovation. This idea may sound radical, but look at the numbers. The drug industry currently spends around $18 billion a year on socially useful research. If research spending grows at a real...

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