Beat the Press is Dean Baker's commentary on economic reporting. Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

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That's not exactly what Edsall said in his NYT column, but it is pretty damn close. The theme of Edsall's piece is that in the United States, as in other wealthy countries, the main political divide is between those who support and those who oppose globalization:

"...if we define globalization as receptivity to open borders, the expansion of local and nationalistic perspectives and support for a less rigid social order and for liberal cultural, immigration and trade policies."

The elites in the United States who claim support of globalization actually do not favor open borders and liberal trade policies, although they dishonestly claim this position. The "globalizers" strongly support protectionist measures that benefit people like them. 

First and foremost, they favor longer and stronger patent and copyright protection. These forms of protection (sorry folks, they are still protectionism even if you like them) are enormously costly. They often raise the price of the protected items by hundreds or even thousands of times the free market price.

This is why prescription drugs are expensive. New cancer drugs, which often sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars for a year's treatment, would typically sell for a few hundred dollars in the absence of patent and related protections. The United States will spend more than $440 billion this year on prescription drugs. These drugs would likely cost less than $80 billion in a free market. The difference of $360 billion is roughly 1.9 percent of GDP. If we add in the cost of protectionism in medical equipment, software, and other areas it would likely be more than twice as much.

In addition, while trade policy has been deliberately designed to put manufacturing workers in direct competition with low-paid workers throughout the developing world, which puts downward pressure on the wages of less-educated workers more generally (this is the theory, not an accidental outcome), it has largely left in place the protectionist barriers which benefit doctors, dentists and other highly paid professionals. (Foreign-trained doctors cannot practice in the United States unless they complete a U.S. residency program. Dentists must graduate from a U.S. [or Canadian] dental school. As a result, these professionals get paid roughly twice as much as their counterparts in other wealthy countries.)

When one party openly supports policies that are designed to redistribute upward and lies about the redistributive features of its policies, it is not surprising that most working people will not be inclined to vote for them. (Yep, this is the point of my book Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Have Been Structured to Make the Rich Richer [it's free.])

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The NYT ran yet another piece highlighting the "crisis" in public pensions. This time the story is that pensions are in worse shape in New York City than they were in 1975 when the city faced bankruptcy. The way it gets this conclusion is by showing that pension payments and liabilities are larger, even after adjusting for inflation, than they were in the mid-1970s.

While this is true, it ignores the fact that New York's gross domestic product is close to three times as large today as it was in the mid-1970s. This means that the $5 billion contribution to pensions that the article shows was made in the mid-1970s (in 2017 dollars) was a considerably larger burden on the city's economy at the time than the projected payment of $10 billion in 2020. 

The article points out that the unfunded liability of the city's pensions, as conventionally measured, is $65 billion. While this sounds ominous, the discounted value of the city's GDP over the next three decades will be more than $20 trillion, making the liability equal to roughly 0.3 percent of projected GDP. That is far from trivial, but also not an unbearable burden if the city's economy remains healthy.

There is one very important point in this article. It notes a big expansion of pensions in 2000 at the peak of the stock bubble. Many other public pension funds also raised their commitments as a result of this bubble, with the expectation that markets would give their historic rates of return even though price-to-earnings ratios were at unprecedented highs.

Other governments stopped contributing to their pensions during this period with the idea that the market would contribute for them. This led to a situation where they suddenly were forced to ramp up contributions sharply when the bubble burst and threw the economy into recession in 2001. Some, like Chicago under Mayor Richard Daley, found this shift too difficult to manage and simply allowed the unfunded liability to grow.

In short, the stock bubble created serious problems for public pension funds. It also created problems for tens of millions of workers planning for retirement. This is worth noting because the conventional view among economists of the stock bubble is that it was just a lot of good fun with no major economic consequences. 

This is close to mind-boggling. Many of the same economists who see the growing and bursting of a huge bubble as no big deal think all hell would break loose if the inflation rate were 3.0 percent instead of the 2.0 percent rate currently targeted by the Fed. There may be a world where this inconsistency makes sense, but it's not the one we live in.

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A column in the Wall Street Journal by Dana P. Goldman and Darius N. Lakdawalla presents a case for high drug prices by making an analogy to the salaries of major league baseball players. They ask what would happen if the average pay of major league players was cut from $4 million to $2 million. They hypothesize that the current crew of major leaguers would continue to play, but that young people might instead opt for different careers, leaving us with a less talented group of baseball players. Their analogy to the drug market is that we would see fewer drugs developed, and therefore we would end up worse off as a result of paying less for drugs.

This analogy is useful because it is a great way to demonstrate some serious wrong-headed thinking. It also leads those of us who had the privilege of seeing players like Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Henry Aaron, and Willie Mays in their primes to wonder if there somehow would have been better players 50 years ago if the pay back then was at current levels.

But the issue is not just how much we should pay for developing drugs, but how we should pay. Suppose that we paid fire fighters at the point where they came to the fire. They would assess the situation and make an offer to put out the fire and save the lives of those who are endangered. We could haggle if we want. Sometimes we might get the price down a bit and in some occasions a competing crew of firefighters may show up and offer some competition. Most of us would probably pay whatever the firefighters asked to rescue our family members.

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Apparently the dislike at the NYT is so intense that they couldn't restrict it to the opinion pages. In an article on French President Emmanuel Macron's plans for changing France's labor market regulations, it referred to the current labor law as the, "rigid and job-killing labor code."

It is not at all clear that France's labor protections have a major impact on unemployment in the country. A cross-country analysis found no effect of employment regulations on unemployment. The more obvious cause of high French unemployment is the lack of demand in the economy which results from both Germany's large trade surplus and its insistence on imposing austerity on France and other euro zone countries. The piece forgot to mention this major aspect of economic policy.

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Donald Trump's economic team has been widely ridiculed for its projection that economic growth will average 3.0 percent annually over the next decade. However, a Washington Post article implies that Trump's team may actually have been overly pessimistic. The article discusses the possibility that robots will be used to replace cashiers at Whole Foods, now that it has been purchased by Amazon.

The piece also raises the concern that automation will displace large numbers of workers throughout the economy over the next two decades.

"A 2013 study from Oxford University predicted that 47 percent of jobs in the United States could be performed by machines over the next two decades, and cashier roles carry an especially heightened risk."

This pace of automation (losing 47 percent of jobs over two decades) is consistent with a 3.0 percent rate of productivity growth, roughly the same rate as the U.S. experienced in the long Golden Age from 1947 to 1973 and again from 1995 to 2005. By contrast, the Congressional Budget Office is projecting productivity growth of roughly 1.5 percent. If the Oxford study's more optimistic assessment proves correct, with labor force growth in the range of 0.5 to 0.7 percent annually, GDP growth would be in the range of 3.5 to 3.7 percent. This far exceeds the Trump administration's 3.0 percent projection.

Contrary to what is implied in this article, rapid productivity growth should lead to rapid wage growth and low unemployment, as was the case through most of the prior two periods. Of course, this assumes competent management of economic policy and there is a serious problem with being able to find qualified economists, which is why the people in charge of policy completely missed the housing bubble.

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David Callahan had an interesting NYT column on the philanthropical efforts of the latest cohort of the newly rich. The piece makes the important point that people like Bill Gates, the Walton family, and Mark Zuckerberg often use their givings to push their specific political agenda. As Callahan points out, these contributions involve a large amount of taxpayer dollars, these very rich people are getting their taxes reduced by roughly 40 cents for every dollar they give. This means, in effect, that Gates, the Waltons, Zuckerberg and the rest are effectively getting taxpayers to put up a large amount of money to support their political agenda in important areas of public policy.

There are a couple of additional points worth adding on this issue. First, these charitable efforts likely have advanced these billionaires in their efforts to get ever richer. This is especially likely to be the case with Bill Gates where efforts to establish himself as a great humanitarian likely discouraged efforts to take more actions against his company's near monopoly in the computer operating system market. (Also, a program officer in the Gates Foundation once once told me that they would not support any work questioning the usefulness of patent support for drug research because of Gates' dependence on intellectual property protections.) 

The other point is that the foundations themselves help to contribute to inequality with the outsized paychecks given to their top executives. It is common for these people to get salaries at or above $1 million a year. (This is discussed in chapter 6 of Riggged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Have Been Structured to Make the Rich Richer [it's free.])

It would be possible to require that philanthropies limit pay in order to qualify for tax-deductible status. The president of the United States earns $400,000 a year. (This doesn't count the special deals for his businesses that Donald Trump gets from those seeking favors.) Many highly talented people compete vigorously for this job. Charitable foundations should be able to find qualified people for the same pay. If not, then they are probably not the sort of organization that deserves the public's support.

Limiting pay for the top executives at institutions receiving taxpayer subsidies, which would include presidents of universities and non-profit hospitals, should help put downward pressure for pay at the top more generally, leaving more money for everyone else.

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Donald Trump went to Wisconsin today to tout the virtues of apprenticeship programs, which he claimed would give workers the skills they need to fill available jobs. Fortunately, the NYT had a good piece by Noam Scheiber that pointed out there is little evidence to support the view that the economy is suffering from a serious skills shortage.

The skills shortage is a recurring theme which businesses and pundit types routinely use to blame unemployment on workers rather than a lack of jobs in the economy. For example, here's a McClatchy News Service piece from August 2014 telling readers that the problem was a lack of worker skills and also the employer sanctions in Obamacare which discouraged businesses from hiring full-time workers. The economy has since added almost 7 million jobs and involuntary part-time employment has plummeted. (Voluntary part-time employment has risen by roughly two million, as Obamacare made it possible for workers to get health care insurance outside of employment.)

Oh, and here's NYT columnist Thomas Friedman in April of 2013. He spoke to the president of a technical college in North Carolina who Friedman quotes:

"'We have a labor surplus in this country and a labor shortage at the same time,' Green explained to me. Workers in North Carolina, particularly in textiles and furniture, who lost jobs either to outsourcing or the recession in 2008, often 'do not have the skills required to get a new job today' in the biotech, health care and manufacturing centers that are opening in the state.

"If before, he added, 'you just needed a high school shop class or a short postsecondary certificate to work in a factory, now you need an associate degree in machining,' a two-year program that requires higher math, I.T. and systems skills. In addition, some employers are now demanding that you not only have an associate degree but that nationally recognized skill certifications be incorporated into the curriculum to show that you have mastered the skills they want, like computer-integrated machining."

And here's J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon in January of 2014 explaining in a Washington Post interview that employers can't find workers with the skills they need. How about another dose on the skills mismatch from Thomas Friedman, this time from May of 2012, when the unemployment rate was still over 6.0 percent.

"The Labor Department reported two weeks ago that even with our high national unemployment rate, employers advertised 3.74 million job openings in March. That is, in part, about a skills mismatch."

And then we have a NYT article from July of 2010, near the bottom of the Great Recession, the headline of which told readers, "...factory jobs return, but employers find skills shortage."

So there you have it, the evergreen story. There is a substantial segment of elite types who are always happy to hear about the skills shortage as an explanation for unemployment. See, the problem is not the state of the economy and its poor management by economists, the problem is always the ill-trained workers. You don't need evidence for this one, just assert that the problem is workers don't have the right skills and furrow your brow in a concerned manner. Works every time.

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Apparently, at least no one at the New York Times cares about the budget deficit. An article that reported on the Fed's plans to reduce its holdings of assets never once mentioned the implication for the budget deficit. Currently the Fed is refunding close to $100 billion a year to the Treasury based on the earnings from these assets. If its holdings were to drop to pre-crisis levels, measured as a share of GDP, this amount would fall to around $30–$40 billion. The difference could be close to $600 billion in revenue over the course of a decade (enough to fund the rich people's tax cut under the Republican health care plan), but apparently the NYT didn't think it was worth mentioning.

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The NYT had an interesting article on how the pharmaceutical company Alkermes had successfully promoted its drug Vivitrol as a treatment for opioid addiction, even though there is little evidence the drug is more effective than older and cheaper alternatives. This effort has involved a massive marketing campaign that has included campaign contributions to politicians in a position to influence the choice of drugs, as well as the lobbying of judges in a position to determine the course of a treatment program.

The piece neglected to mention the fact that Alkermes would have little incentive to engage in such practices if it did not have a government-granted patent monopoly on Vivitrol. If the drug were selling at generic prices, it would not pay for expensive, and possibly corrupt, lobbying efforts.

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It's a bit painful to see this piece in the NYT this morning, which tells readers that the Affordable Care Act gave workers the flexibility to leave jobs they didn't like and to retire early. The latter option is especially important for people in bad health, who desperately need insurance, but often could not get it outside of employment before the ACA.

The reason it is painful to see this piece is because this benefit of the ACA is pretty damn obvious. There is an extensive literature dating back a quarter century about "job lock," the idea that workers will be stuck in jobs they would otherwise leave, but can't because they need the health insurance it provides. In addition to extending insurance coverage to people who did not already have it, the ACA largely ended job lock by allowing people to get relatively affordable policies through either Medicaid or the exchanges.

This flexibility is a huge deal in the U.S. labor market. More than five million people lose or leave their job every single month. It matters hugely that these people don't have to worry about losing health care insurance for themselves and their families.

The ACA clearly gave workers this security. This can be easily shown in the surge in voluntary part-time employment that followed the creation of the exchanges and expansion of Medicaid in 2014. CEPR has been virtually alone in trying to call attention to this fact (e.g. here, here, here, and here). In particular, we pointed out that there were large increases in voluntary part-time among young parents (mostly mothers) and older workers, as highlighted in this NYT piece.

For some reason, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress had no interest in highlighting this benefit of the ACA. I don't know the reason for their not wanting to take credit for one of the main benefits of the program, but I do have a guess. Many of the parents choosing to work part-time were African American or Hispanic. (The older workers were more likely to be white.) The Democrats may not have wanted to have the ACA thought of as a policy that allowed non-white people to work less than they would have otherwise.

I have no idea if this actually explains the Democrats' behavior (I'm open to other explanations), but it is the best one I can think of. Anyhow, the flexibility the ACA gives to workers is a huge huge deal. It is amazing that the Democrats never chose to highlight this benefit of the program.

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That would seem to be the implication of the part of his discussion of the loss of "social capital" that deals with the increase in the percentage of women in the labor force. He tells readers:

"Work: The main trend was the gradual entrance of millions of women into the job market. In 2015, 74 percent of prime-working-age women (25 to 54) were in the labor force, up from 35 percent in 1948. However, there were social costs. There was more 'reliance on markets for child care,' and 'community-based' volunteer work suffered. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of men with lower levels of education dropped out of the labor force."

It is not clear what exactly Samuelson means here, but presumably he is mentioning the decline in the labor force participation rate of less-educated men as one of the "social costs" of women entering the labor market. If so, the linkage is more than a bit bizarre. Countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Japan all had large increases in women's labor force participation rates without any large decline in participation rates for men.

There are certainly economic and social factors that have reduced employment opportunities for less-educated men (mass incarceration is a big one), but it is a stretch to blame this on women entering the labor force.

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I usually don't stray directly into political contests and polling here at BTP, but I think there is a very important economic phenomenon here. Dan Balz, the Washington Post's lead political analyst, had a piece on the election results in the UK. The last paragraph begins by telling readers:

"No one saw Thursday’s British results ahead of time. Even more than the Brexit vote and more than Trump’s victory, this was a shocker."

This is not true. The polling firm YouGov's model nailed the results almost exactly, predicting that the Conservatives would lose 20 seats. (They actually lost 19.) This matters not only because Balz is denying YouGov the credit it deserves for getting this one right, but because he is giving an amnesty to everyone else who missed it. According to Balz, the other polling firms can't be blamed because the outcome simply was unknowable.

This collective amnesty is annoying because these people are paid lots of money to get things right. When they completely blow it, they should suffer the consequences. After all, when the custodian doesn't do a good job cleaning the toilets, they get fired. The Washington Post doesn't write a piece on their behalf saying that it couldn't be done.

Of course, this brings back memories of the housing bubble and the massive "who could have known" amnesty granted all the economists and policy types who completely missed the largest economic collapse in more than seventy years. As a frustrated "no one" in this case, I can say that it absolutely was foreseeable and anyone with open eyes saw it. 

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That would have been a useful point to mention in a Washington Post article that reports on an orphan drug with a list price of $750,000 for a year's treatment. The piece reports that the drug's manufacturer, Biogen, offers the drug at concessionary prices to people who sign away privacy rights.

The piece notes the price being charged, then tells readers:

"But the Laskos [the family profiled in the piece] know it is expensive and risky for a company to develop a drug for a disease that affects one in 10,000 babies born each year. Drugs for tiny patient populations — called “orphan diseases” — are an increasingly attractive niche of drug development in part because of the high prices companies can charge."

While the drug companies do charge very high prices for many of these drugs, they also find it attractive to develop drugs for orphan diseases because of the orphan drug tax credit. This credit covers 50 percent of the cost of clinical drug tests. (The number could actually be somewhat higher than 50 percent, since an employee's salary can be fully charged as a covered expense if they devote 80 percent of their time to tests of orphan drugs. This means that for an employee right at this floor, the government is paying 62.5 percent of their pay, assuming the company accounts time honestly.)

Anyhow, it would have been worth noting this tax credit, since the federal government is sharing in this "expensive and risky" effort. This also suggests an obvious way around the problem of high-priced drugs. If the federal government paid the full cost (instead of half) of the research upfront, then the drug could be produced and sold as a generic.

In that case, we would likely be talking about a drug that would sell for around $750 a year, rather than $750,000, since few drugs are actually expensive to manufacture. It is probably worth mentioning in this context that the Washington Post receives considerable advertising revenue from pharmaceutical companies.

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In her Washington Post column, Catherine Rampell repeats some ill-founded conventional wisdom in telling readers that French president Emmanuel Macron's plans to weaken labor unions and reduce restrictions on laying off workers are the path to revitalizing France's economy. In fact, this claim is not supported by the evidence. There is little evidence that strong unions or labor market protections are associated with high unemployment.

The most obvious reason that France has had high unemployment is the turn to austerity in 2010 following the economic crisis. As a result of the cutbacks in government spending, there was no source of demand to replace the demand generated by asset bubbles prior to the crisis. For some reason, this fact is rarely mentioned in reporting on France's economy.

It is also worth noting that France's "stagnant labor market" has a much higher employment rate for prime age (ages 25 to 54) workers than the U.S. labor market (79.7 percent in France compared to 78.2 percent in the United States). This fact would seem to undermine the case that regulations are seriously hampering France's labor market.

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Thomas Edsall's NYT piece is ostensibly bad news for Democrats since it argues that the working-class populism among non-college educated Trump voters is anti-government. He argues this means that they are suspicious of government programs Democrats favor that redistribute from the wealthy to poor and working class.

While Edsall presents this as insoluble problem for Democrats looking to rebuild majority support, that is not really the case. The upward redistribution of the last four decades has been driven by government policies. It can be reversed by different government policies, which does not necessarily mean more government.

The first and most obvious item on this list of policies is Federal Reserve Board monetary policy. Right now the Federal Reserve Board is in the process of raising interest rates. The point of this policy is to slow the economy and reduce the pace of job growth. This is ostensibly because the Fed is concerned about inflation getting too high, but the immediate effect of the policy is to keep people from getting jobs and reducing the bargaining power of those who do have jobs.

A Fed that doesn't raise interest rates doesn't imply any bigger government than a Fed that does raise interest rates. In the decades immediately following World War II, when most workers shared in the gains from economic growth, The Fed was more committed to full employment and less concerned about inflation. There is no reason that Democrats could not champion a more worker-friendly Fed.

There is a similar story with trade policy. While it will not be possible to get back or even most of the millions of jobs lost to trade in the last decade, the United States could pursue policies that get the trade deficit closer to balance. A trade deficit in the range of 1.0 percent of GDP ($190 billion), instead of the current trade deficit of around 3 percent of GDP (around $550 billion) would imply another 1–2 million manufacturing jobs. This would provide a substantial boost to the labor market for workers without college degrees.

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A Washington Post editorial praised Ohio's decision to sue pharmaceutical companies for promoting opioid pain medication. The claim being made in the suit is that the companies minimized the risk of addiction in order to increase their market.

Incredibly, the piece does not mention the protectionism that gives these drug companies the incentive to push their drugs for improper uses. Government-granted patent monopolies allow the companies to sell their drugs for twenty, thirty, or forty times the free market price. When a government granted monopoly allows a drug company to raise its price by a factor of forty over the free market price it has the same distortionary effects as a trade tariff of 4,000 percent.

While the Post would be very quick to condemn anyone who proposed placing a 10 or 20 percent tariffs on shoes or steel to protect the domestic industry, it is apparently unconcerned about the much larger distortions that result from market barriers that are hundreds of times larger in the case of prescription drugs.

As a result of this protectionism, the country will spend more than $440 billion (around $1,300 per person) for drugs that would likely sell for less than $80 billion in a free market. In addition, this protectionism gives drug companies incentive to lie about the effectiveness and safety of their drugs, as we clearly see in the case of opiod painkillers.

Unfortunately, the Post is so committed to protectionism in this case that it does not want to even talk about the root cause of the problem.

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The NYT featured yet another piece on a country, in this case Japan, facing a future with a lower population. The piece warns that it will be difficult to maintain economic growth with a declining population and that Japan's labor shortage would get more severe.

This doesn't sound like too bad of a story to people familiar with economics. Thus far the labor shortage has not been serious enough to cause wages to rise in Japan. If it eventually does get more severe and wages do rise then it just would mean that some of the least productive jobs would go unfilled. For example, perhaps Tokyo would no longer pay workers to shove people into overcrowded subway cars.

As far as GDP growth, economists usually care about GDP per capita as a measure of living standards, not total GDP. This is why Denmark is a richer country than India, even though India has a much larger GDP. (The piece does note this point in passing in the second to the last paragraph.)

It is worth reminding readers that growth in productivity swamps the impact of demographics. If Japan can sustain a 1.5 percent pace of productivity growth, then output per worker hour would be 80 percent higher in forty years. Even in a very extreme demographic change, say going from three workers per retiree to 1.8 workers per retiree, this would still allow for a 17 percent rise in average living standards over this period. (This assumes retirees consume 80 percent as much as workers on average.) And this does not account for the benefits from less strain on the infrastructure and the natural environment. Nor does it take account of the lower ratio of dependent children to workers.

If Japan can sustain productivity growth of 2.0 percent annually (well below the 3.0 percent Golden Age pace in the United States from 1947 to 1973 and again from 1995 to 2005), then the living standards of workers and retirees could rise by 42 percent over this period, in spite of the rising ratio of retirees to workers. Presumably the folks who are concerned about the job-killing robots expect that productivity growth will be considerably more rapid.

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At a time when an ever larger share of national income is going to the richest one percent, and large segments of the working class population are seeing rising mortality rates, the Washington Post naturally turns to the country's most pressing problem: the number of people receiving disability payments from the government.

Its second piece on the topic profiled a family with multiple generations receiving disability benefits. It seemed to go out of its way to include every possible negative aspect of their lives in order to give an unfavorable view of the family and leave readers with the impression that the country has a serious problem of families who do nothing but collect disability checks generation after generation.

The piece begins with a horrible story of young children playing with a puppy and then accidentally dropping it to the floor. They originally think the puppy was killed from the drop, but apparently it was only stunned and managed to survive. Then we get the story of the mother telling the kids to grab sodas to bring to a Sunday morning church service.

We then get the poetic description of the rural Missouri countryside where this family lives:

"She saw that gravel road turn into another and another. She saw trailers, dirt-battered and deteriorating. She saw land as flat as it was empty, land that migrant workers traveled hundreds of miles to cultivate, reaping both that year’s watermelon harvest and jobs that few in the community were willing to do."

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Many folks might have thought Donald Trump had abandoned his pledge about "draining the swamp" when he began filling his administration with Goldman Sachs alums and other Wall Street-types and reversed all the ethics rules put in place for the last five decades to prevent corruption. But the Washington Post tells us this is not true.

According to the Washington Post "draining the swamp" just meant firing government workers. So apparently if Wall Streeters and rich folks (including Trump family and friends) rip the taxpayers off for millions and billions in corrupt deals, it is okay as long as he fires government employees making five-figure salaries or maybe in a few cases, six-figure salaries.

So, Trump voters are apparently cool with being ripped off to put more money in the pockets of really rich people. They only get upset when their tax dollars are used to provide middle-income jobs for people doing things like cleaning up the environment or keeping our national parks in good shape. It's good we have the Washington Post to tell us this.

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One of the largely overlooked implications of Friday's weak job report is that it likely means that we will see a strong rebound in productivity growth for the second quarter. GDP growth is likely to bounce back from the first quarter's weak 1.2 percent number, most likely coming in between 3.0 percent to 4.0 percent. With the rate of growth of hours worked likely less than 1.0 percent, we will be looking at productivity growth in the 2.0 percent to 3.0 percent range for the quarter.

Here are three quick thoughts:

1) Quarterly productivity data are hugely erratic, so most likely a rebound in a single quarter means nothing. It is entirely possible that the third quarter will put us back on our weak 1.0 percent productivity growth path.

2) I am betting that productivity growth will pick up as the labor market tightens further (or perhaps I should say "if" the labor market tightens further), as workers move from low-paying, low-productivity jobs (e.g. greeters at Walmart and the midnight shift at a convenience store) into higher paying, high-productivity jobs.

3) If productivity growth does pick up, it will be good for workers. We had 3.0 percent annual productivity growth from 1947 to 1973 and again from 1995 to 2005. In the first period, we had low unemployment and broadly shared wage gains. The same was true in the years from 1996 to 2001, until the collapse of the stock bubble threw us into a recession.

Strong productivity growth coupled with sound economic policy (e.g. the Fed not raising interest rates to keep people from getting jobs) creates the basis for rapidly improving standards of living. We need not worry about it leading to mass unemployment if the folks in charge of economic policy have a clue.

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Yes folks, your friend on the Washington Post opinion page, George Will, wants to reduce your tax burden. He argues that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is a waste of taxpayer dollars. It is forcing average taxpayers to foot the bill for radio and TV shows that members of Congress value.

Naturally, Mr. Will is concerned about the burden that CPB is putting on the pocketbook of Joe and Jill Sixpack. He tells us that it has cost the country $12 billion. Most people may not offhand have a good sense of how much $12 billion is. Unlike Post owner Jeff Bezos (who got rich from his company's exemption from having to collect sales taxes), they don't have that sort of money. They may also not realize that Will was referring to cumulative spending on CPB over 50 years. 

If Will was interested in more honest discussion of the burden imposed by the appropriation for CPB, he could have told readers that the annual spending of $445 million (0.013 percent of total spending), comes to roughly $1.40 per person per year. This means that if we zero out the appropriation, Joe and Jill Sixpack can get themselves another third of a six pack with the savings.

It might have also been worth mentioning in this context the tax deduction for charitable contributions. If someone like the Koch brothers decide to donate $1 billion to their favorite think tank producing nonsense denying global warming, Joe and Jill Sixpack will have to pick up the tab for 40 cents on the dollar, or $400 million, since the Koch brothers will have reduced their tax liability by this amount. Post readers are looking forward to the Will column highlighting the unfairness of a system that makes average taxpayers pick up the tab for whatever it is that the Koch brothers and other billionaires want us to watch.

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