Beat the Press

Is the Washington Post Editorial Board Angry at the Paper's Inadequate Reporting?

A Washington Post editorial this morning criticized efforts in Maryland and other states to force large employers (especially Wal-Mart) to pay for their workers' health care. The article contrasted these efforts with the approach being followed in Massachusetts, which it asserts is "a state that is trying to responsibly address rising health-care costs."

Cutting Back I.R.S. Enforcement Staff

David Cay Johnston has a great piece in today's NYT reporting on the Bush administration's plan to halve the number of lawyers who audit estate tax filing. According to the article, these lawyers generate an average of more than $2,000 per hour of work in revenue for the government. This implies, that unless they are paid more than $4 million a year, the government will lose money by laying them off.

--Dean Baker

Is the Federal Government Going Bankrupt? Maybe it Should Stop Spending Money Publishing Scare Stories

What would the long-term federal deficit look like if the cost of the country's health care system continued to explode, so that in thirty years it costs four times as much per person as that of other rich countries? Well, if I had nothing else to do with my time, I might calculate these numbers.

Bad Advice on Mortgages from the NYT

The Sunday Times has an article reporting that many homebuyers who took out adjustable rate mortgages 3 years ago, are now refinancing to avoid higher mortgage rates. The article (actually the accompanying chart) also adds that many are refinancing with negative amortization loans, under which the outstanding principle increases through time. The chart tells readers that this could make sense, as long as house prices continue to rise.

Housing Appraisals: The Accounting Scandal of the Housing Bubble

Financial bubbles breed accounting fraud. Those of us who warned of the stock bubble in the late nineties were not surprised by the Enrons and WorldComs that surfaced when the bubble deflated. Bubbles make it possible to paper over all sorts of questionable accounting or outright fraud. When the bubble deflates, these practices can no longer be hidden.

The Problems of Protectionism: Another Prescription Drug Scandal

In econ 101, we teach that when the government intervenes in a market to keep prices above marginal costs, it will encourage all sorts of undesirable and harmful rent-seeking behavior. This is one reason that all right-thinking economists are strong opponents of tariffs and quotas that can raise the price of things like shoes, shorts, and steel by 20-30 percent above the competitive market price.

Shame and Pain: The "Medicare and Social Security" Line Again

I believe that the Washington Post has a copyright on combining the words "Medicare" and "Social Security" in a single sentence. Anyone who writes on these issues on their editorial pages always seems to do it.

Again folks, the numbers are real clear. Medicare is a big problem because U.S. health care costs are projected to explode, which means that Medicare costs will explode. The moral is fix the health care system. Social Security is not a problem. The story on aging is not very different in the future than in the past. We are living longer, that has always been true.

The Washington Post's Happy Face Version of the Fed

There is plenty of room to debate what the Federal Reserve Board's monetary policy should be, but the necessary prerequisite for a serious debate is the knowledge of how monetary policy works. Readers of the Post would be badly misled on this topic by an article in today's paper.

The article correctly reports that the Fed adjusts interest rates to prevent inflation from getting too high, explaining that "when inflation is a concern, it raises borrowing costs to cool economic growth, which weakens businesses' power to raise prices."

NYT Discovers "Ghetto Tax"

The NYT had a good article this morning highlighting a new Brookings report that details how people living in inner city areas often pay far more for goods and services than people living in more affluent areas. The report is worth reading and the NYT gets credit for calling attention to it.

Drug Companies Gone Wild: Medicare Part D

The NYT had a very good piece about how the shift of 6 million Medicaid beneficiaries into the Medicare drug benefit program may increase drug company profits in 2006 by $2 billion. According to the article, under the new program the drug companies get to sell the same drugs at higher prices. It doesn't get much better than this!

--Dean Baker

Monopolies Breed Corruption: Medical Supplies Industry

The NYT had a good piece this morning reporting on how the medical supply industry pays top hospital executives thousands of dollars for advice on how to market their products. This is what you expect to happen when government patent monopolies allow these firms to sell their products at prices that are several hundred percent above the free market price.

--Dean Baker

NPR Doesn't Believe in Markets

NPR had a piece this morning warning of a shortage of agricultural workers in California. It reported that some crops may rot in the field, if farmers there can't get more workers by the end of the summer.

Those of us who believe in markets would suggest that the farmers try raising wages. It is possible that some of the crops being farmed now in California would not be profitable, if farmers had to pay the wage necessary to attract workers in the current market (or if they had to pay the market price for water). In a market economy, that means that the farmers made bad choices on crop choices.

Soviet Style History in the New York Times

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, key facts were often excluded from historical accounts in order not to put the regime in a bad light. The NYT seems to be experimenting with this journalistic style.

Reassurances on the Housing Bubble

The Times had an interesting piece discussing the impact of more than $1.2 trillion in adjustable rate mortgages resetting in the next two years. The article points out that many homeowners may find their rates increasing by as much as 2 full percentage points when their lock-in period ends on an adjustable rate mortgage.

The Conservative Nanny State: LIVE in NYC!

I will be giving a talk on my book, The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer, at Demos next Thursday at noon. The talk is free, as is the book, if you want to download it. You can the details on their website.

--Dean Baker