Beat the Press

They Still Haven't Heard of Patents at the NYT

David Leonhardt had a column discussing overuse of expensive medical care in the NYT today. Remarkably, this discussion did not mention the effect of patents in complicated decisions on treatment and raising costs.

California Gets a Bad Rap on Pensions in NYT

California has done some really really stupid things (like a tax credit for first time homebuyers), but the NYT did the state and its readers a disservice in going after California's pension fund liabilities. The basic story is that if you assume a 4.14 nominal rate of return on pension fund assets, then the state's pension liabilities look really really bad.

The big question that readers should ask is, so what?

There have been few people who have been more critical of assuming exaggerated market returns than me, but 4.14 percent nominal? Anyone want to take a bet that California's pension funds will do better than this?

David Brooks' Celebration: The U.S. Is Richer Than Chad!

Okay, it's not quite that bad, but when someone who pretends to be serious wants his readers to celebrate the fact that: "the average American worker is nearly 10 times more productive than the average Chinese worker," it's getting pretty silly. (Actually it's probably closer than 7-8 times, but this is David Brooks we're talking about.)

Response to DeLong Review of False Profits

I don't ordinarily use BTP for addressing items that mention me or my work, but I'll make an exception in the hope of getting a good exchange going. Brad DeLong was good enough to begin a review of my book False Profits on his blog. After graciously giving me credit for recognizing the housing bubble and the dangers it posed, Brad goes on:

Inventing a Surge of Job Seekers

A front page Washington Post article told readers that:

"The number of people looking for jobs rose by more than 200,000 last month compared with February, according to the Economic Policy Institute -- and that's a good sign, economists say. It means that Americans are seeing more jobs being created and that they're optimistic about their prospects."

Creating 162,000 Jobs Without a Drop in the Unemployment Rate Is Not a Paradox

In the middle of an article telling readers about Alan Greenspan's (yes, the guy who couldn't see an $8 trillion housing bubble) assessment of the economy, the NYT refers to the "paradox" that the Labor Department reported that the economy created 162,000 jobs in March but the unemployment rate remained fixed at 9.7 percent.

Thomas Friedman Discusses Economics and It Really Really Hurts

Thomas Friedman has refrained from discussing economics in his columns for some time and the world was happy. But, now he's back with a vengeance. He begins his column with today's "fun fact":

"Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S. were created by firms that were 5 years old or less, .... That is about 40 million jobs. That means the established firms created no new net jobs during that period.”

The rest of the column is devoting to touting the importance of new firms, which Friedman tells us are started disproportionately by high IQ foreigners. He therefore emphasizes the need to have a more open door for high IQ immigrants.

How Did Greenspan Miss the Housing Bubble?

This is the question that everyone should be asking, not just of Greenspan, but of every economist in the country. The NYT has nice column by Michael Burry on the topic.

--Dean Baker

NYT Reports on Private Equity Rip-Offs of State Pension Funds

The NYT had an excellent piece on how private equity funds (e.g. Peter Peterson's Blackstone Group) ripoff state and local governments by charging them large management fees. A standard arrangement will give the equity fund managers 2.0 percent of the funds under management and 20 percent of the profit. The article notes several cases where these investments have turned out poorly for pension funds and cites academic studies that show private equity funds, net of fees, provide on average no better return than broad stock indexes.

--Dean Baker

Does Anyone Who Writes on Housing for the NYT Know Arithmetic?

When people talk about plans to "help" homeowners they must (yes, I said "must") ask two simple questions:

1) Are the homeowners being "helped" paying less in mortgage and other housing costs than they would to rent a comparable unit: and
2) Are the homeowners likely to end up with equity in their homes?

Neither of these questions get asked in this discussion of the merits of the Obama administration's plans to "help" homeowners.
This means that the NYT wasted readers time and killed trees for no good reason.

David Brooks Crusade of Denial

To those who pay attention to the economy, it's rather evident that the basic economic problems of the last two decades are the bubble driven growth of this era and the country's broken health care system. But NYT columnist David Brooks apparently never allows the actual state of the economy to affect his pronouncements about the economy and our moral state.

Therefore he describes the rise of personal debt from 55 percent of national income in 1960 to 133 percent in 2007 as being the result of the fact that: "life has become secure. This has eroded the fear of debt, private and public."

April Fool's Joke?

I leave the assessment of this USA Today headline to readers' judgment.

--Dean Baker

NYT Is Anxious to Tout Bad News About Europe

That is what the headline of an article on new economic data told readers. The headline is: "Unemployment and Inflation Rise in Europe." The data showed that unemployment increased from 9.9 percent in January to 10.0 percent in February.

This increase is not statistically significant. It is also the same unemployment rate that had originally been reported for November, but was subsequently revised down to 9.9 percent. In other words, the unemployment rate has been essentially unchanged for the last four months.

Offshore Drilling Will Have No Noticeable Impact on Oil Prices

The Post reported on President Obama's lifting of the moratorium on offshore drilling and the response to the decision. While the article noted the reactions of politicians and presented polling data, it neglected to mention the fact that the oil that can potentially be obtained from these areas will have no noticeable impact on oil prices.

Productivity Growth Does Not Explain the Lack of Jobs

The Washington Post repeated a common complaint that the reason that the economy is not creating jobs is because employers are squeezing more productivity out of workers and therefore need fewer workers to produce the same level of output. Productivity growth cannot explain the failure for the economy to generate jobs thus far in this recovery.

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