In Search of A Thoughtful Liberal Economist

Dean Baker

A Facebook friend whose opinions I respect, and who is more liberal than me, pointed me in the direction of a blog by Dean Baker [link may work for signed-in Facebook members only], saying Baker is “a fine, clear-thinking economist, [and] he’s also an uncannily good press critic.”

Sounds great — I’ve been looking for a source for regular commentary from a left-leaning economist, to balance out the right-leaning observations of my classmate Greg Mankiw.   But I’m afraid I’m still looking.

Baker’s credentials are impeccable — not as lofty as Mankiw’s, but there’s no shame in being more peccable than Greg.  (Or do I mean “less peccable?”)  But where Mankiw consistently treats opposing viewpoints with respect, Baker indulges in the common blogger habit of treating opposing viewpoints with contempt.

Let’s take a look at a few of Baker’s recent posts (emphasis added):

Has God Been Talking to the Washington Post?

In its article covering President Obama’s speech on the budget yesterday the Washington Post told readers that:

“Obama acknowledged that the debt must be tackled faster than he has previously proposed.”

It is only possible to “acknowledge” something which is true. The Post obviously believes it is true that “the debt must be tackled faster than he has previously proposed,” but that does not make it so. This is the Post’s opinion. A real newspaper would have reported that President Obama “said that the debt must be tackled faster than he has previously proposed.” It would not have implied that its view of the world is the unquestioned reality, especially in a front page news story.

Tendentious nonsense.  If the Post is not “a real newspaper,” then no such animal exists, and the paper’s use of the word “acknowledge” is eminently defensible.  To be fair, Baker goes on to make some thoughtful observations, which you can read for yourself if interested.

OK, let’s try another sample, this one quoted in its entirety:

Dana Milbank Missed the Health Care Reform Act
This is the only thing that readers can infer from his reference to President Obama’s “refusal to propose a viable solution” to the debt problem. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the health care bill approved by Congress last year will trim tens of trillions of dollars off the long-term deficit. One can only conclude that Milbank wasn’t aware of the bill in making this accusation.

Tendentious drivel (a category that is one tick worse than tendentious nonsense).  Readers certainly could infer that Milbank doesn’t believe the CBO estimates, which were promptly rejected by a former director of… um… the Congressional Budget Office.  They could infer that Milbank — knowing that two federal district court judges already have declared the individual mandate unconstitutional — has skipped ahead to the part of the story where the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Obamacare altogether, thereby rendering it not “viable”.

But wait… Baker’s blog is called “Beat the Press,” and press criticism is his schtick.  OK, let’s look at the post that inspired my Facebook friend to praise Baker in the first place.

Misrepresenting the Policy Debate on China: Is the NYT Covering Up for Obama

The NYT discussed the agenda of an upcoming meeting of G-20 finance ministers. It focused on efforts to pressure China to raise the value of its currency.

This discussion implied that the United States must depend on its ability to pressure China to change its currency policy. In fact, the United States does not have to rely on China changing its policy, it can force a change with unilateral action.

Specifically, just as China sets an official exchange rate of the yuan against the dollar that is below the market value of the yuan, the U.S. could set an exchange rate of the dollar against the yuan that is equal to the market value of the yuan.

Tendentious drivel on stilts.  Yes, it’s technically correct that the U.S. could move the exchange rate unilaterally — thereby touching off a currency war.  The first rule of warfare is that the enemy gets a vote, too.  And China is by far America’s biggest creditor, holding more than $2 trillion in US Treasury securities. There is nothing to keep China from selling, say, half of its holdings… thereby dramatically driving down the value of US Treasury securities. That would make the subprime mortgage crisis look like a hiccup.

Baker apparently has opined that this is a “non-threat.”  I’ll look for that article next time I get a chance, but in the meantime it’s simply sophistry for Baker to pretend that the Chinese would have no recourse.  Another Facebooker provided links to Paul Krugman, but there I draw the line.  Krugman may have the biggest peccability factor in all of economics, but life is too short to waste part of it reading Krugman.

One thought on “In Search of A Thoughtful Liberal Economist

  1. Pingback: The U.S. Debt Bubble Will Make Sub-Prime Mortgages Look Like a Picnic | All That Is Necessary…

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