Beat the Press

Washington Post Corrects Mexico's Post-NAFTA Growth Rate

It took 43 days, but the Washington Post did finally correct an April 17th news story that had Mexico's economy growing at a 17.5 percent annual rate in the period since the passage of NAFTA. This is longer than one would hope, and it required much more prodding from my colleagues at CEPR than should have been necessary, but it is still good to see that the paper felt a responsibility to correct such a blatant mistake.

--Dean Baker

Immigrant Labor and Supply and Demand

The Times had an article this morning that explained the immigration problem in very simple terms, "this many jobs; only this many visas." As the article reports, there are a huge number of less-skilled jobs waiting to be filled by immigrants, but almost no visas are available for immigrants to come across the border and work at these jobs legally.

To prove this case, the article quotes Stephen P. Gennett, president of the Carolinas chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (a builders' trade group), "we have a problem here, a people shortage."

Do Trade Agreements Have to Be "Free"

I am continually amazed by the apparent need that reporters feel to describe the trade agreements negotiated by the U.S. government as "free trade" agreements. (See the Times article on the Colombian elections for the current target of my wrath.) What possible additional information do reporters and editors believe that they are conveying by including the word "free?"

Right Wing Law and Economics: Free Market Economics at NPR

National Public Radio had a piece this morning about how some think tanks committed to "law and economics" (applying economic principles to the law) were hosting seminars for judges. The segment asserted that these think tanks, which purportedly receive large contributions from the tobacco industry, the oil industry, and other industry lobbies, are committed to free market economics.

This should have been one of those paid public relations spots that helps NPR pay the bills. The tobacco industry does not want to be held responsible for things like marketing to children or concealing evidence of the danger of cigarettes. The oil industry doesn't want to be held accountable for the damage that oil does to the environment.

American Idol Special: Was the Vote Kosher?

First, Beat the Press extends its congratulations to Taylor Hicks, the new American Idol. Now, for the serious question, was the vote fair?

Can We Buy New Home Sales Data?

The Commerce Department's data for new home sales in April showed a 4.9 percent increase from March. Many news reports took this as evidence of the continued strength of the housing market. A bit of caution is appropriate here.

First, monthly data are always erratic. This should be a mantra for anyone trying to track the economy. If a particular data source shows data that are out of line with other data we have on the economy, then it was probably driven by some quirk in the data.

Problems With Venezuelan Numbers

It appears that Mexico is not the only Latin American country for which the media have difficulty with official statistics. Apparently, the media have been anxious to tout high poverty numbers for Venezuela. The problem appears to be that they want to cite poverty data for 2004, which showed a large upturn in the poverty rate in the immediate wake of a strike in the oil sector.

The Venezuelan economy rebounded sharply, beginning in 2004, and the poverty rate predictably fell back below its previous levels. However, even though the 2005 data is now available, the media continues to use the much higher numbers from 2004. My colleagues at CEPR posted a short piece on Venezuelan poverty today.

Rising Wages for Nurses? Nanny State to the Rescue

The New York Times had an article today that could have badly used a bit of economic analysis. The article reports on a provision in the Senate immigration bill that removes the cap on the number of nurses who can enter the country each year.

Washington Post Still Believes in Mexico's Post-NAFTA Growth Miracle

It is now 36 days since the Washington Post published an article that reported that Mexico's economy has grown at a world record 17.5 percent annual rate since NAFTA was implemented in 1994. (According to IMF data, annual growth averaged 2.9 percent.) They have refused to print a correction despite repeated calls and e-mails from my colleagues at CEPR.

The Post has a very strong policy on correcting errors, which was printed in a recent column by the ombudsman ("Policy vs. Reality in Correcting Errors" 5-7-06; B 6):

What if Money Managers Had to Work for a Living?

The Times had an article this morning about the effort by stock exchanges to merge across international borders. At one point, it comments about fears that this trend could make it easier for companies to shop among stock markets in order to list their shares in the country with the least restrictive accounting and reporting rules.

This is a reasonable concern. It is a safe bet that if companies can evade regulations that cost them money, they will.

The Times Versus Bush on the Deficit and the Dollar

The lead editorial in Saturday's New York Times noted the recent drop in the dollar. It then blamed President Bush's deficits and warned of an impending recession unless the budget deficit is reduced. As best I can tell, the editorial was incoherent, like much of the discussion on the trade deficit and the budget deficit.

The Fed and the Housing Bubble: Fool Me Once, …..

The financial press eagerly reported Federal Reserve Board Chairman Benjamin Bernanke's comments this week saying that he expected a gradual softening of the housing market, not a serious collapse. Mr. Bernanke's comments may reflect his true view of the housing market. However, it is also possible that these statements were made simply to soothe the financial markets.

The Power of the Press: Congress Takes Back Tax Breaks for Big Oil

The New York Times had an article this morning about efforts in Congress to renegotiate federal oil and gas leases that gave the industry a windfall projected to be $20 billion over the next 25 years. The sums at stake are not huge for the country or the industry (the $800 million annual windfall is less than 1 percent of the industry's current profits), but the story does show the impact that the media can have when they do their job.

Budget Reporting Without Context

The Times ran a piece this morning on a budget resolution passed by the House last night. According to the article, the resolution provides for a substantial increase in defense spending (not counting war expenditures) and some degree of cuts for everything else. However, it is not clear where (if anywhere) adjustments have been made for inflation (now between 3.0-4.0 percent) so I doubt that many readers have any clear sense of what spending changes would be implied by this resolution for a $2.7 trillion budget ($2.8 trillion on NPR).

The Conservative Nanny State in html

To increase sales, we now have my new book, The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer, available for free download in html format. It is still possible to get a free PDF download, or you can also order a paperback copy.

Also, for those interested in asking questions on the book, or just questioning my competence and integrity, I will be guest blogging at Maxspeak on Wednesday, May 24, from 1:00-2:30 (EDT).

--Dean Baker

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