Beat the Press

Do the Washington Post Editors Know How Markets Work?

The Post has a piece this morning about the non-enforcement of laws against hiring undocumented workers. The article includes several statements, including one from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, to the effect that native born citizens will not do the jobs that are filled by undocumented workers. Believers in markets would say that if wages rose, then plenty of native-born citizens would be willing to fill the jobs.

Wasting Public Funds on Destroying the Planet

It is remarkable that ostensibly intelligent people can be made to fear the possibility that Europe and Japan will be less crowded places in the years ahead. The Financial Times has an article that reports on a warning from "top fertility experts" over "Europe's chaotic response to its demographic crisis."

It is hard to find the evidence for the crisis in the story. The article reports that health care spending as share of GDP is projected to rise from a Europe-wide average of 6 percent at present to 8 percent by 2050. Since the U.S. currently spends 15 percent of its GDP on health care, it is difficult to get too concerned about this prospect.

Interesting News On China

The New York Times reported on Saturday that China's central bank is adopting a more contractionary monetary policy in order to slow its economy and reduce inflation. If China's central bank is concerned that inflation is getting out of control, then it would be an ideal time for the country to begin to raise the value of its currency against the dollar.

Strong Words on the Fed

"The Fed chairman may be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, but his real bosses are on Wall Street." This isn't the ranting of some crazed radical; it is a line from a column in the Washington Post's Outlook section, by Richard Yamarone, an investment analyst.

Cooking Unemployment Data to Make the U.S. Look Better

Laurent Guerby made a post on the prior topic about European-U.S. unemployment comparisons, I was just at a conference sponsored by the OECD where exactly this issue came up. The basic point is that proponents of the U.S. model want to add people in employment training programs and disability roles in Europe to their official unemployment rates for purposes of international comparisons.

Is Bernanke Promoting Inflation?

There is an interesting aspect to the recent rise in the inflation rate that the media have not really explored. The biggest factor in the higher than expected May measure was a jump in rent. (The two rental indices, owners' equivalent rent and rent proper, account for nearly 40 percent of the core consumer price index [CPI].)

Great Political Caricature, Courtesy of David Brooks

In his New York Times column today, "Changing Bedfellows", David Brooks did a far better job describing the nanny state conservatives' framing of economics than I could ever hope to do in my book. Of course, he ostensibly was saying how the world actually is, rather than how the nanny state conservatives want us to see it.

According to Brooks, we have the populist nationalists who argue against immigration and trade, and want to ensure workers' security through Social Security and national health care insurance. This group includes Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, Al Sharpton and Kevin Phillips.

Is Alan Blinder a Protectionist?

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne is a decent person, whose views on many issues I share, but his column today is almost a caricature. It perfectly demonstrates why liberals/progressives are so lost on economic policy.

Joe Six-Pack's Stock Portfolio?

"Experts" get away with saying almost any nonsense they like when it comes to talking about the stock market and the economy, but I think that we may have hit a new high today. A Times article today quotes Mark Cliffe, global head of financial markets research at ING Group in London, saying that the U.S. stock market has fallen 5-6 percent this year. The expert adds that if it falls another 5 percent, it could affect consumer spending and "‘Joe-Six' could start to cut back his stock portfolio."

Escaping With the Trust Fund

Folks, I am off for a weeklong vacation. I will not be back at my blogging duties until Monday, June 12th. In the meantime, my colleagues at CEPR, Heather Boushey, David Rosnick, John Schmitt, and Mark Weisbrot will be intermittently filling in.

I should also warn that there may be somewhat more delay before your comments get posted. Comments to the blog are moderated, and I can't guarantee the pace at which items get posted in my absence.

I am sorry to leave in the middle of a lively debate on the Social Security trust fund. I am sure that there will be no difficulty reaching consensus on this issue in my absence.

--Dean Baker

Fiction on the Social Security Trust Fund

Nothing like some comments on the trust fund to get the blogging juices flowing. It is amazing how metaphysical these discussions on the trust fund get. I don't really see anything very complicated here. I am simply referring to the law as it stands.

Libeling Social Security

One of the disadvantages of having a public Social Security system is that people are free to make all sorts of untrue statements about it without facing any consequences. For example, an oped in the Washington Post this morning described the Social Security trust fund as "largely an accounting fiction." This statement is of course absurd. The trust fund consists of U.S. government bonds, which the government is obligated to repay under the law. There is no sense whatsoever in which it can accurately be described as fictional.

There's Still Good Paying Jobs for CEOs

Gretchen Morgenson had a good piece in the Times documenting some of the ways in which corporate boards manage to dish out bonuses to CEOs even when they miss performance targets. With all the scandals in CEO pay over the last decade, it is remarkable that this sort of nonsense persists unchecked. Clearly there is a structural imbalance, with top executives being able to pilfer corporate coffers to enrich themselves at the expense of shareholders.

Does Henry Paulson Advocate a Large Trade Deficit?

According to press accounts, Mr. Paulson is an ardent believer in a strong dollar. Regardless of what you think of the budget deficit, the strong dollar IS the reason for the trade deficit.

This is not really a contestable point. No one opts to buy imported goods rather than domestically produced goods because of the budget deficit. They buy imported goods because the strong dollar makes them cheaper. It really is that simple.

Should Anyone Care About Consumer Confidence?

I have always considered the consumer confidence index to be one of the least valuable releases of economic data. Consumer spending is hugely important for the state of the economy, but the index provides very little information about the direction of spending. The index includes two components, a current situation component, which does track current spending reasonably well (and therefore has little predictive value about the future), and an expectations component which is highly volatile and has very little predictive value.