Dean Baker

Recent Articles

The Fed Controls the Consumer Protection Agency's Budget

At this point people are still combing through the fine print of Senator Dodd's financial reform bill to determine all its ramifications, however one point is very clear in assessing the independence of the new Consumer Financial Products Protection Agency. The Fed will have control over the agency's budget. This means that if the Fed believes that the agency is causing too much trouble to the financial industry, it would have the power to squeeze its budget so that it would become less troublesome. It is also worth noting in this context that the Fed sets its own budget. (It gets its money the old-fashioned way: it prints it.) Every year the Fed sends a budget showing its major budget lines to Congress. This is purely informational, Congress does not approve the budget. Given the way Dodd proposes to set it up, if the Fed were to decide to squeeze the new agency Congress would have no immediate recourse. This fact should be mentioned in news coverage of the issue. --Dean Baker

Manufacturing Output: Which Way Is Up?

The Post article on the Fed's monthly industrial production report told readers that "February's numbers gave economists other signs that manufacturing would continue to recover this spring, as the capacity utilization -- portion of plants used for production -- climbed to 72.7 percent from 72.5 percent." Umm no, that's not quite right. Overall industrial production did rise, but that was due to increases in mining and utility output. Manufacturing output actually fell by 0.1 percent in February from a level that was revised down by 0.1 percent from its previously reported level. Capacity utilization in manufacturing fell from 69.1 percent in January (previously reported as 69.2 percent) to 69.0 percent. This decline was undoubtedly in part attributable to bad weather, but the Fed's data certainly is not pointing towards an uptick in manufacturing. --Dean Baker

Job Growth: Morning Edition Makes the Consensus the Dissenting Opinion

The projections from the Fed, the Congressional Budget Office and the Obama administration all show the unemployment rate remaining unusually high for years into the future. This may cause listeners to wonder how the pessimistic view of employment growth from Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute (my former boss), became the " dissenting opinion ." --Dean Baker

Pension Fund Cashes in Treasury Bonds: AP Screams "Crisis"

Okay, it's not exactly a pension fund, it's the Social Security trust fund that is cashing in some of the government bonds that it holds to pay benefits. This is the way the trust fund was designed to work, but AP somehow cannot find a reporter (or editor) who understands even the most basic facts about Social Security or for that matter Treasury bonds, which get called "IOUs" in the headline and four times in the article. (When GE has its next bond issue, will AP report on the auction of "GE IOUs?") The whole purpose of building up the trust fund was to help defray the cost of the retirement of the baby boom cohort. This meant that at some point it would be necessary to sell some of the bonds to pay benefits. This has happened somewhat sooner than had previously been predicted due to the economic crisis created by inept policy and Wall Street corruption. It is not clear why anyone should see this as a crisis for Social Security. The article also includes this non-sequitur: "Now the...

NYT Spreads Nonsense on China Buying U.S. Debt

The NYT told readers that: "China is the biggest buyer of Treasury bonds at a time when the United States has record budget deficits and needs China to keep buying those bonds to finance American debt." Nope, this is nonsense. People can get the real story from today's Krugman column , China has an unloaded water pistol pointed at our heads. --Dean Baker