Beat the Press is Dean Baker's commentary on economic reporting. Dean Baker is a Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

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The NYT shows us that the skills shortage is real in an interview with Sarah M. Smith, the owner of a roofing company in Nebraska. In the interview, Ms. Smith explains why she needs foreign workers, on H2-B visas, since she is unable to get native born workers or greencard holders for the $17 an hour she is offering.

Ms. Smith explains:

"We have offered the $17-an-hour wage because it is the prevailing wage determination for this type of work, according to the United States Department of Labor. We do offer incentives and bonuses above that. And just to note, Nebraska’s minimum wage is $9 an hour."

She is then asked why, if she can't find enough workers, she doesn't offer a higher wage. Ms. Smith responds:

"In response to the article, I got an email that said if we were to offer $35 an hour with health care benefits, we would definitely get people to apply; it said people who were highly qualified applicants with years of experience would probably line up at our door.

"My response is: We would love to be able to offer $35 an hour as starting pay, but are you in turn willing to pay premium prices for your next roof replacement? A lot of customers we get through online lead services like Thumbtack are people looking for the best deal. They want to collect proposals from four to five businesses and most of the time choose the cheapest one.

"We want to compensate our employees fairly for the work they do and the risk they take, but we wouldn’t be able to stay in business if we doubled the hourly rate. It’s not just their hourly wage that becomes a factor. Insurance in the roofing industry is extremely expensive. Not only are we required to carry expensive general liability insurance, we also have to have workers’ compensation insurance for employees on the roof. That comes to 40 percent of their wage. And on top of that, there’s payroll tax.

"We also do a lot of insurance restoration work like hail damage claims, and in those cases the insurance provider determines what they pay for labor and we work with it. If we come back saying it’s going to cost us way more on labor to do the job, the homeowner isn’t likely to want to cover the extra cost, especially not above their out-of-pocket deductible."

Okay, let's for the moment ignore the idea that Ms. Smith would pay $35 an hour as starting pay. Let's imagine that she offered $20 an hour, roughly an 18 percent increase over her current pay and presumably substantially more than her competitors.

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Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had a Wall Street Journal column highlighting the benefits of "MAGAnomics." The piece can best be described as a combination of Groundhog Day and outright lies.

In terms of Groundhog Day, we have actually tried MAGAnomics twice before and it didn't work. We had huge cuts in taxes and regulation under both President Reagan and George W. Bush. In neither case, was there any huge uptick in growth and investment. In fact, the Bush years were striking for the weak growth in the economy and especially the labor market. We saw what was at the time the longest period without net job growth since the Great Depression. And of course, his policy of giving finance free rein gave us the housing bubble and the Great Recession.

The story of the 1980s was somewhat better but hardly follows the MAGAnomics script. The economy did bounce back in 1983, following a steep recession in 1981–1982. That is generally what economies do following steep recessions that were not caused by collapsed asset bubbles. Furthermore, the bounceback was based on increased consumption, not investment as the MAGAnomics folks claim. In fact, investment in the late 1980s fell to extraordinarily low levels. It is also worth pointing out that following both tax cuts, the deficit exploded, just as conventional economics predicts.

By contrast, Clinton raised taxes in 1993 and the economy subsequently soared. It would be silly to attribute the strong growth of the 1990s to the Clinton tax increase; other factors like an IT driven productivity boom and the stock bubble were the key factors, but obviously, the tax increase did not prevent strong growth.

The outright lies part stem from the comparison to prior periods' growth rates. Mulvaney notes that the 2.0 percent growth rate projected for the next decade is markedly lower than the 3.5 percent rate that we had seen for most of the post-World War II era.This comparison doesn't make sense.

We are now seeing very slow labor force growth due to the retirement of the baby boom cohort and the fact that the secular rise in the female labor force participation rate is largely at an end. MAGAnomics can do nothing about either of these facts. Slower labor force growth translates into slower overall growth.

Mulvaney also complains about government benefits keeping people from working. The idea that large numbers of people aren't working because of the generosity of welfare benefits shows a startling degree of ignorance. The United States has the least generous welfare state of any wealthy country, yet we also have among the lowest labor force participation rates. The idea that we will get any substantial boost to the labor force from gutting benefits further is absurd on its face.

Mulvaney apparently missed the fact that energy prices have plummeted in the last three years. Oil had been over $100 a barrel, today it is less than $50. While it is always possible that it could fall still further, any boost to the economy from further declines will be trivial compared to what we have seen already. It would be amazing if Mulvaney was ignorant of the recent path in energy prices.

In short, there is nothing here at all. Mulvaney has given us absolutely zero reason that Trump's policies will lead to anything other than larger deficits, fewer people with health care, more dangerous workplaces, and a dirtier environment.

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Several news outlets have reported that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) does not accept the Trump administration's claims that its program will lead to a big surge in growth. It is worth mentioning in reference to this dispute that the "robots will take all the jobs" gang agrees with Trump in this dispute. Many people in the debate are probably not aware of this fact because it requires an understanding of third-grade arithmetic.

Economic growth is the sum of labor force growth and productivity growth. There is not too much dispute about the rate of growth of the labor force over the next decade, since it is mostly due to population growth. Apart from large changes in immigration policy, we can't do much about the number of working-age people who will be in the U.S. over the next decade.

The main question in projecting economic growth is therefore the rate of productivity growth. CBO essentially projects that the slowdown of the last decade will persist, with productivity growth averaging roughly 1.5 percent annually. The Trump crew is betting on a more rapid pace of productivity growth, as are the robots will take all the jobs gang. After all, robots taking the jobs of workers is pretty much the definition of productivity growth.

So, there are many reasons for mocking Trump and his administration, but if any of the robots will take the jobs gang mock the Trump growth projections, they are showing their ignorance. They agree with Trump's projections of more rapid growth, they are just too confused about the arithmetic and economics to know it.

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I have often joked how when we have a political debate after we watch the candidates stake out various claims and positions, we then see reporters talk about their body language. They tell us who looked confident and sincere and who seemed cautious or in other ways unsteady.

This is infuriating because this is exactly the area in which reporters have no comparative advantage over the people viewing the debate. We all engage in conversations and negotiations with people in our everyday life. Most of us are used to assessing the sincerity and integrity of the people we deal with. When we are watching politicians put forward their case on television we can all judge their sincerity and confidence. There is no particular reason to believe that the reporters giving their commentary can do a better job at this than the rest of the people watching the debate.

On the other hand, the reporters could, in principle, know more about the truth of the politicians' claims. They could know about the background to their policy proposals, where they have been tried, and the issues that have been raised by various experts. Reporters almost invariably fail to provide this sort of analysis, which would be a useful service to their audience.

Anyhow, we got a full and explicit example of the body language treatment this morning on National Public Radio. Their discussion of the meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump explicitly focused on the body language between the two leaders and assured us that they have struck up a genuine friendship.

I didn't have a chance to see the events on television, but let me record my skepticism here. At least we now know for sure the skills required of NPR reporters.  

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Senator Toomey is apparently too young to remember the financial crisis that resulted from the collapse of the housing bubble. He told the Washington Post that he thinks Medicare cost increases will lead to a financial crisis:

"'It’s a guaranteed financial crisis if we don’t do something about our entitlement programs,' said Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who has pushed for indexing Medicaid to a lower inflation rate. 'It’s not a question of whether that happens, it’s just a question of when, and how devastating, that is.'"

While it is possible to see how higher Medicare costs would lead to larger budget deficits, if Toomey and his Republican colleagues decide never to raise taxes or cut other spending, there is no obvious way that this leads to a financial crisis. The last crisis came about because a housing bubble was fueled by loans. When housing prices collapsed, trillions of dollars in loans went bad. While this is a fairly straightforward story, it is very difficult to see how rising Medicare costs are more likely to lead to a financial crisis than a Superbowl victory by the Cleveland Browns.

It might have been helpful to point out to readers that the Senator doesn't appear to know what he is talking about.

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Aaron Carroll had an interesting Upshot piece comparing the merits of Medicaid and private insurance. It focuses on the fact that Medicaid is largely free for beneficiaries, while private insurance typically has substantial co-pays and deductibles. The piece points out that these fees can provide a substantial disincentive for getting health care, especially for lower income people.

While this might be a good way to save the system money if it discourages unnecessary care, which was a major reason the Affordable Care Act encouraged such fees, research shows that people also put off necessary care as a result of such fees. As a result, private insurance may end up leading to worse health outcomes than Medicaid for many low- and moderate-income people.

While this discussion is useful, there is another aspect to the fees that it ignores. Insurers often make mistakes which require patients to spend many extra hours pursuing claims. In many cases, they may not be compensated for care which should be covered if they don't spend the necessary time. Even if they do get compensated, this is a needless waste of people's time which is not factored into standard analysis on health care costs.

While it is always dangerous to generalize from very personal experiences, my guess is that my wife and I had to follow up in some manner on at least 20 percent of our claims. In some cases, this could be a single phone call, in other cases it could mean extensive back and forth between the provider and insurer, requiring multiple documents and authorizations. It is hard to believe that our experience is all that atypical or that we are especially bad at filling out forms. (My wife is also an economist who is pretty good at dealing with forms and numbers.)

Anyhow, this is an aspect of co-pays and deductibles that can be especially annoying to patients. Remember, people are most likely to be dealing with large numbers of claims when they are suffering from a health problem. This is not the best time to add another problem to their life.

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Regular readers of the NYT and other leading outlets might well get that impression. The one-sided nature of the discussion of these deals (invariably dubbed "free" trade agreements, because no one can be opposed to freedom) is hard for careful readers to miss.

We got yet another example with a column warning that Donald Trump may kill the bourbon boom with his trade policy. The piece uses the example of bourbon to tell us all the ways in which Trump's decision to pull back from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals can harm people in the United States and be bad for the world generally.

Starting at the basics, it tells us:

"Take Vietnam, a TPP member that increased American spirits imports by 173.9 percent between 2015 and 2016, to $45.9 million, making it the category’s fastest-growing importer. Under the trade deal, the country is expected to drastically increase its American whiskey consumption.

"Without American membership in the TPP, a 12-nation pact that created zero tariffs for American products, Vietnam’s 45 percent duty on bourbon and other distilled spirits will no longer be phased out, putting those expectations on ice."

There are several points worth noting here. First, apparently, our whiskey exports to Vietnam appear to be doing just fine even with the 45 percent tariff. Perhaps U.S. whiskey is considered a luxury in Vietnam and the people who buy it are not that concerned about the price. I have no idea whether that is the case, but is possible that the reduction or elimination of the tariff may not affect sales very much.

The second point is that the implicit assumption in this story is that the people in Vietnam have no interest in getting cheaper whiskey. The piece assumes that they will continue to impose a 45 percent tax on the whiskey they buy from the United States for the indefinite future. This is, of course, possible, but it's also possible that Vietnamese with access to textbooks on public finance, or who like U.S. whiskey, will push their government to reduce the 45 percent tax with or without a trade deal.

Finally, we should be asking how people in the United States feel about paying more for their whiskey. After all, there is a limited amount of whiskey that U.S. distilleries can produce, at least in the short-term. If Vietnam and other countries will buy more, then there is less left for us whiskey drinkers back in the United States.

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Folks who passed their intro econ class know that it is net exports (exports minus imports) that affect output and employment. Not exports alone. Nonetheless, we find people like Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson telling readers that Trump's decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) might undermine his agenda because "being outside these agreements [a TPP without the U.S. and European Union-Japan trade deal) would weaken U.S. exports."

Since it is not exports that matter for output and employment, but net exports, it is not clear that Trump should be worried. The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) projected that the TPP would lead to a net loss of manufacturing jobs, meaning that it would increase imports more than exports. Since Trump made increasing manufacturing employment a centerpiece of his campaign, it doesn't seem unreasonable that he would oppose a deal that is projected to reduce manufacturing employment.

It is also important to realize that the USITC projections rule out the possibility that some of the countries in the agreement may deliberately keep down the value of their currency to increase their trade surpluses, as they have done in the past. The TPP would reduce the ability of the United States to take measures to punish such behavior.

It is also worth noting that contrary to what Samuelson implies, the U.S. is generally helped, not hurt, when our trading partners remove barriers between them. If an EU-Japan trade deal actually leads to stronger growth for both sides, these countries will be better trading partners for the United States. (It is possible that the increased protectionism in the pact, associated with longer and stronger patent and copyright and related protections may do more to slow growth than the liberalization measures do to increase it.)

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The NYT is again spreading the absurd myth that Paul Ryan and other Republicans want a free market in health care. While it is very helpful to the Republicans to imply that they are trying to advance some grand principle, as opposed to just giving money to rich people, it is a lie on a par with climate denialism.

There are no government-granted patent monopolies in a free market. As a result of these government granted monopolies, we will pay more than $440 billion for prescription drugs this year. These drugs would likely cost less than $80 billion in a free market. The difference of more than $360 billion a year is a bit less than 2 percent of GDP more than seven times as much money as is at stake in the Republicans proposed Medicaid cuts. (Those cuts cover a decade, this is a single year figure.)

The same story applies to medical equipment. MRIs are cheap without patent protection.

It is possible to argue for the merits of government granted monopolies (I argue against them in chapter 5 of Rigged [it's free]), but it is not possible to deny that these monopolies are a government policy, not the free market. Paul Ryan has never indicated any opposition to government granted patent monopolies.

Similarly, we pay our doctors twice as much as their counterparts in other rich countries, costing us more than $80 billion a year in higher health care costs. This is due to the protectionist barriers enjoyed by our doctors, which protect them from both foreign and domestic competition. (This is covered in chapter 7 of Rigged.) Paul Ryan has never indicated a desire to remove the protectionist barriers that allow many doctors to reach the top one percent of income earners.

The government also privileges insurance contracts in many ways compared with other contracts. For example, with insurance contracts not disclosing relevant information can often void the contract. By contrast, with most contracts, the parties to the contract are responsible for learning relevant information themselves. Ryan has not indicated any desire to reverse this privileged position for insurance contracts.

It is very generous of the NYT to pretend that the Republicans are motivated by some sort of principle in their efforts to repeal the ACA, but the claim is absurd on its face. It does not deserve to be treated seriously, the repeal is about giving more money to rich people, end of story.

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If the Fed is really targeting 2.0 percent inflation, it is hard to understand why it would be considering further interest rate hikes. Inflation has been slowing in recent months, to a rate of just 1.4 percent in the core personal consumption expenditure deflator. The June jobs report gave more evidence that wage growth is slowing as well. The figure below shows the annualized rate of inflation taking the average hourly wage for the last three months (April, May, and June), compared with the average for the prior three months (January, February, and March).

Book2 15921 image001

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As can be seen, there was some acceleration in wage growth by this measure in the first half of 2016, with a peak of just over 3.0 percent in May. Since then the general direction has been downward. The most recent data puts the annualized rate of wage growth by this measure at just over 2.0 percent. We all know the story that wage growth is supposed to accelerate in a tight labor market, but maybe the data are trying to tell us that the labor market just isn't very tight. 

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Yes, that is what he said. You can read about it in the NYT. The annualized rate of wage growth in the last three months compared with the prior three months was just 2.0 percent. So, if there is a problem with getting qualified workers it seems to be primarily in the human resources department.

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In order to reduce speculation in its housing market, the city of Vancouver imposed a vacant property tax. People would be assessed an additional tax if a house or apartment was left vacant for a long period of time. (Yes, this is one of my pet ideas, so it makes my day to see Vancouver moving ahead with the vacancy tax.)

In addition to reducing speculation it might be expected that the tax would reduce rents by making more units available. But CBC says it ain't so, there will be more supply but no change in prices. Interesting how things work up north.

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The magic word shows up yet again in an NYT piece on a trade agreement being negotiated between Japan and the European Union. While the deal clearly includes some moves towards trade liberalization, which are discussed in the piece, it likely also includes measures for stronger and longer protections for patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property. These protectionist measures may well outweigh the liberalizing effect of reductions in tariffs and other conventional barriers to trade.

If that is the case, it is clearly wrong to call the deal a "free" trade agreement, since it on net would be increasing protectionism. I don't happen to know the balance in this pact, but I suspect the NYT doesn't either. In that case, it would be at least as informative to readers to simply call the deal a "trade agreement" and save a word.

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An NYT piece on the growth of oil exports may have given readers a misleading impression of the state of the U.S. oil industry. The piece was headlined, "oil exports, illegal for decades, now fuel a Texas port boom." It told readers:

"Oil exports grew slowly through most of 2016, but this year there has been a surge reaching 1.3 million barrels a day — roughly 15 percent of domestic production — which even at today’s depressed prices is worth more than $1.5 billion a month."

It is worth noting that the rise in oil exports has been accompanied by a rise in oil imports. According to the Energy Information Agency, imports of crude and petroleum products bottomed out at 9.2 million barrels a day in 2014. By 2016, imports had risen by more than 900,000 barrels a day to 10.1 million.

By allowing exports of oil, some oil that would have otherwise been consumed domestically is instead being exported. This oil is being replaced by oil from other countries. While this opening of trade increases efficiency, if we ignore the environmental costs associated with more transportation of oil and petroleum products, it means somewhat higher prices for domestic consumers.

The oil that is being imported almost certainly costs more than the domestically produced oil that is now being exported instead of sold domestically. It would have been helpful to note this fact in the article.

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Lower tariff barriers generally benefit consumers in the form of lower prices. If they don't increase overall unemployment, they will lead to gains for the economy as a whole. However, there will almost always be specific industries that are losers. This is why it is a bit strange to read in a NYT article on a prospective trade deal between the European Union (EU) and Japan:

"Among other things, the pact would eliminate a 10 percent duty that the E.U. imposes on Japanese car imports, while removing obstacles that European automakers face in Japan. That would be particularly significant for luxury carmakers like BMW, Mercedes and Toyota’s Lexus brand, said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany who focuses on the auto industry.

"Those vehicles suffer the most from high import duties. 'It could be a chance for the high-value, premium vehicles,' Mr. Dudenhöffer said. American brands like Cadillac or Lincoln 'won’t have the same advantage and will be in a worse position,' he said."

The existing tariffs give the sellers in these markets the opportunity to charge a premium over the tariff-free price. This premium will be lost when the tariffs go away. It is possible that either EU car makers or Japanese car makers will gain enough market share that it will offset the loss of this premium, but it is highly unlikely that both would gain enough market share to offset the loss of the premium. The lower price will undoubtedly lead to some increase in sales and there is the possibility of gaining share at the expense of U.S. car makers and other third country sellers, but these gains would have to be extraordinary to make both sets of manufacturers as winners.

To make the arithmetic simple, suppose a 10 percent tariff is passed on fully to higher prices. Suppose the profit would be 5 percent of the sales price in the absence of the tariff. This means that the tariff makes the profit 15 percent of the sales price. (I'm rounding here.) The loss of tariff protection in this story would then cause the per car profit to fall by two-thirds, meaning that unless sales triple, the company ends up a net loser.

The real world story is more complicated. The tariff is not completely passed on in higher prices and some of the benefits of the higher prices are shared with workers in the form of higher wages. But unless a company in a protected industry has a very large gain in market share, it is unlikely to be a benefit from ending the protection.

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Donald Trump is apparently considering imposing some tariffs on some imports from our trading partners. This prospect has many folks, including Paul Krugman, terrified. I don’t share his fear.

Before getting into any substance, I should be clear. I have no idea what Trump may be planning by way of tariffs. During the campaign, he threatened to put a 35 percent tariff on imports from Mexico and 45 percent tariffs on imports from China. These tariffs would, in fact, be scary. They would certainly create large disruptions of the type Krugman talks about. It would also be almost certain that they would lead to a trade war with both countries retaliating.

I should also say that tariffs are not my preferred way of dealing with the country’s trade deficit, which I do consider a problem. Anyone who thinks secular stagnation (i.e. not enough demand in the economy) is a problem should believe the trade deficit is a problem. If the trade deficit were 1.0 percent of GDP rather than 3.0 percent of GDP, we would have been approaching full employment many years ago.

But the normal mechanism for reducing a trade deficit is an adjustment in currency values. This means that the currency of the country (the United States) with the deficit falls and the country with the surplus (much of the rest of the world) rises. When the dollar falls in value relative to other currencies, U.S. made goods and services become more competitive internationally. That will lead to more U.S. exports, and fewer imports, bringing trade closer to balance.

This adjustment in currency values has not taken place primarily because foreign governments have bought up massive amounts of dollars. This is partly as a reserve currency to protect themselves against financial crises. (It is a failure of the International Monetary Fund that large amounts of reserves are considered necessary for this purpose.)

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In her column on "Five Myths About Health Insurance," health economics professor Alexis Pozen pushes a common myth. As part of myth number five, Pozen tells readers;

"Although firms may boast about offering generous health-care benefits, the costs of coverage are largely borne by employees, in the form of lower wages than a competitive market would otherwise support. That helps explain why inflation-adjusted wages have remained flat, even while productivity has increased — it’s all going to cover rising health-care costs."

While there is some truth to this story in prior decades (only some, since payments for insurance largely came at the expense of pensions), benefit growth has actually trailed wage growth in the recovery, as shown below.


Since benefits have not kept pace with wage growth over the last five years, we should be expecting wages to rise somewhat faster than productivity since we are seeing a shift in compensation from benefits to wages.

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That's the question millions are asking after reading an NYT article on the state of the U.S. aluminum industry. The article notes that an increasing share of aluminum is imported, mostly from Iceland and other countries with low-cost electricity. (The industry uses huge amounts of electricity.) However, it also points out that China is getting a growing share of the market and the industry claims that the Chinese firms are subsidized by the government. The industry and steelworkers union are arguing for offsetting tariffs.

The piece then presents a comment from an executive at the Molson Coors Brewing:

"If there are duties on aluminum coming to this country, it will obviously get passed on to us and the customer ... Our prices will go up."

The piece doesn't give any sense of how much beer prices to consumers would rise from the tariffs being considered. While it would take a bit of homework to calculate the prospective increase from a tariff, suppose that tariffs on Chinese aluminum raised the price of aluminum by 10 percent. This is almost certainly too high a figure, since Chinese aluminum only accounts for 5 percent of U.S. consumption, according to the article.

Suppose that the cost of the aluminum accounts for 10 percent of the price of a can of beer in the store. This is also almost certainly far too high since the current cost of aluminum is less than a dollar a pound. If you can get twenty cans out of a pound of aluminum that would make the cost per can less than five cents.

In this scenario, tariffs would raise the price of a can of beer by 1.0 percent. It's a safe bet that the beer drinking public would rather not pay 1.0 percent more for their beer, but most would probably not be terrified by this prospect.

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Dentists are apparently among the group of workers who lack the skills necessary to compete in the modern economy, who then turn to the government to protect their jobs and wages. This is in effect the story told in this Washington Post news article about the power of the American Dental Association (ADA).

The piece focuses on the ADA's efforts to block other professionals from doing work that is now done by dentists. While the piece doesn't mention this fact, the ADA also blocks foreign-trained dentists from practicing in the United States. Dentists cannot practice in the United States unless they have a degree from a U.S. dental school. (Since 2011, graduates of Canadian dental schools have also been allowed to practice here.)

As a result of this protectionism, the pay of dentists averages $200,000 a year, roughly twice as much as their pay in other wealthy countries. This costs the country $20 billion a year (roughly equal to the TANF budget) in higher dental expenses.

It's striking that the protectionism for dentists gets so little attention relative to much less costly forms of protectionism, like tariffs for steel, cars, or other items. Perhaps it has something to do with the people reporting on the topic identifying with the beneficiaries. I discuss this in chapter 7 of 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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I'm not sure which it is since I never met the guy, but it really is tiresome to see people try to pass off as a serious argument on health care something that anyone with any knowledge on the topic knows to be false. In a column touting the virtues of health savings accounts, so that we can all do comparison shopping for our colonoscopies, Stephens pronounced Obamacare a failure.

He notes the high rate increases in the last two years for insurance plans offered on the exchanges (ignoring the fact that the costs were originally below projections, so that premiums are now roughly in line with the projections from before the plan was passed). He then tells readers:

"Same deal for employer-sponsored plans. 'While Sen. Obama promised during his campaign in 2008 that the average family would see health insurance premiums drop by $2,500 per year, the average family premium for employer-sponsored coverage has risen by $3,671,' noted Maureen Buff and Timothy Terrell in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. That was back in 2014, and premiums continue to rise."

Okay Obama's $2,500 drop in premium number was relative to a growing baseline. This was completely obvious at the time and was apparent to anyone who spend two seconds looking at the projections. Health care costs had been rising 6 to 7 percent annually for decades. Obama was not saying that his plan would reverse this pattern and actually cause costs to decline. He was talking about costs relative to the baseline projection of growth. (Costs actually have dropped relative to baseline projections even more than Obama projected, although it is debatable how much the Affordable Care Act is responsible.)

Everyone following the debate fully understood that Obama was making his claim relative to a baseline of rising cost growth, since it would have been completely absurd for him to claim he would actually cause premiums to fall in nominal terms. If Stephens is unaware of this fact, his level of ignorance on health care is truly astounding. Alternatively he could just be lying, deliberately misrepresenting Obama's promises to score a cheap political point.

Either way, it doesn't speak well for Stephens. I know the NYT has an affirmative action policy for conservatives, but this is ridiculous.

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There has probably never been a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper that produced as much glee in the media as last week's report showing that Seattle's minimum wage law may have led to a net loss in wages for low wage workers. According to the analysis, there was a reduction in average hours worked among those in the low wage labor market that more than offset the gain in wages. The result was a net loss in wages for exactly the group of people the law was intended to benefit.

This finding was quickly picked up in every major news outlet. While some, notably the New York Times, reported the finding with appropriate cautions, others (e.g. here, here, here, here, and here) were nearly gleeful at the idea that workers in Seattle were losing their jobs. Most of the reporting ignored the fact that the same week a team of researchers from Berkeley produced an analysis using a very similar methodology that found no statistically significant impact on employment.

There are important differences in the studies. The Berkeley study follows much prior research and only looks at the restaurant industry, a major employer of low wage workers. The University of Washington NBER paper looked at all workers getting paid less than $19 an hour. It also had two additional quarters of data. However, the Washington study also excluded the roughly 40 percent of the workforce that worked at multi-site employers (think Starbucks and McDonald's).

In other words, it it not obvious that the Washington study is the "better" analysis. The Berkeley team has produced much of the cutting edge research on the minimum wage over the last fifteen years. I doubt that many of the reporters touting the Washington study would be able to explain why it is a better analysis of the impact of Seattle's minimum wage hikes.

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