Jeff J.

Jeff J.
Cattlearoma, New Mexico, USA
June 08
free and clear
A computer programmer who is no longer geeky enough to be interested in how software is constructed; I care more about what software can do for people; or even more about people, period. Mostly interested in the taboo subjects of religion and politics: religion as an atheist, and politics as a left-leaning Democrat. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any work copied or excerpted under this license should be attributed to Jeffrey G. Johnson, and included with a link to this blog.

MARCH 20, 2012 3:00PM

Beat The Press: Economic Blog Recommendation

Rate: 4 Flag

One of the things that is hardest for voters to sort out is how the economy is reported in the news. There are conflicting claims about a very complex subject, so that even journalists can not really keep abreast of what is real and what is correct. Yet having a good sense of what the truth is about the economy, the budget, the deficit, the debt, and what the trends and history are is important to our democratic participation.

I would just like to offer a recomendation to anyone who is concerned about this issue, based on my experiences of trying to sort out economic claims and reports made by politicians and j0urnalists.

 Dean Baker, a macroeconomist from the Center For Economic and Policy Research stays abreast of the major economic news events and provides excellent analysese of how reports could be misinterpreted or confusing. He writes the blog Beat The Press, which I consume daily using the RSS feed and Google Reader.  I find this is to be an excellent source of information on budget policy and helpful in understanding the economy in general. With all the information overload we all have experienced how easily we can be misled or confused by poorly written articles or headlines.



And Mr. Baker has a good sense of humor too. Today in a post titled "More Mind Reading at the Post"  he reported that "The Washington Post is quickly becoming an employment service for psychics."  In another post debunking a fallacy about the performance of Charter Schools, which is based on ignoring average performance, Baker writes that "The NYT had a bad case of he said/she said reporting this morning". In a post about the value of the dollar and manufacturing Baker starts with "Readers of the front page WAPO piece on manufacturing productivity will assume that neither the Post nor any of the economic experts it consults have heard of arithmetic."

While we may think we have a handle on what gets reported, it can't help to have a little expert advice when trying to interpret the news and sort out conflicting claims and reports. Sometimes even the most improbable sounding reports just might be true; but it's not always easy to tell! 



While these sarcastic remarks provide some comic relief and entertainment, they also truly reflect the poor state of the art of economic reporting in major news sources, and Baker gives thorough and understandable explanations of why economic journalism deserves such tongue-in-cheek prodding. All in all I find the blog a great resource for improving understanding of the economic impacts of political events and trends. I highly recommend it to anyone interested.


Author tags:

economy, news, politics

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
The major problem of most economic analysis and reporting is that almost everyone involved is obsessed with currency over value. For example: Apple and Google are valued a $400 to$600 per share but what is their actual value? Apple brokers music sales and designs electronic gadgets but what do these products actually do for the consumer? Is there anything that Apple provides that we cannot survive without? Same question applies to Google and to the commodity price of gold?

If all the gold in the world vaporized and escaped through the atmosphere into space, what difference would it make to the people of the world? On the other hand when we ask the same question about petroleum or natural gas, wheat, rice, corn or seafood the impact would be very different. The currency price of gold hovers just below $1900 an ounce world wide, while prime fatty tuna belly costs around $200 a pound in Japan and catfish costs less than $2.00 a pound in the USA.

The currency value of these commodities has nothing to do with their abundance or use and everything to do with the relative worthless value of paper or electronic currency and the cultural values and demand in different parts of the world.

Until economists recognize that intrinsic value has nothing to do with revenue measured in currency, we're doomed to dysfunction and can only hope that we don't buy into the confidence artists efforts to return to speculation in Tulip Bulbs. For what it's worth that's my two cents.
There's a difference between that which is necessary and that which is in demand.
I find it interesting that the Conservatives think the media is liberal biased. The Liberals think the opposite. I guess it all depends on where you go to read your information. I just want the plain truth.
jmac, thanks for your comments. I agree that what people want and demand is baffling. I'd extend that analysis to what the market does to television. Fifteen or twenty years ago it seemed like we were in for lots of good stuff on TV: history, discovery, TLC, nat geo, animal planet, etc. The idea of television fulfilling it's long ago envisioned role as a great educator seemed to be about to be fulfilled. But these potentially "educational" channels have been corrupted by lowest common denominator brain rot crap like aliens building pyramids and completely awful "reality" TV fantasies where America can gratify their voyeuristic fetishes spying on people whose lives are more screwed up than their own. I figured out a few decades ago what made Jerry Springer popular: most people were tired of seeing glamour and smart people that made them feel inferior; they wanted to people who were incredibly stupid and uncouth so that they could feel smug and superior. That was my theory, and the cancer of reality TV and other fantasy drivel that pollutes the airwaves seems to bear that out.

Have you ever heard Warren Buffet go on about Gold? Here's one of my favorite quotes from Buffet:

gets dug out of the ground, then we melt it down, dig another hole,
bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no
utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”

Kosher Salaam Alekum, ;)
Very true, and people want the darnedest things, don't they? I've always been amazed at how much people will spend over the actual value of an item in order to have the brand label that confers the desired level of status. Humans are nuts. lol Don't miss the Buffet quotes above...

Hey Love,
I like the Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Economist, Mother Jones, the NYT, and a list of bloggers (Andrew Sullivan, Matther Yglesias, Dave Weigel, Kevin Drum, Steve Benen, to name a few). I don't watch news. Reading gives one freedom, while television spoon feeds and isn't mentally challenging.

Here is my take on the whole liberal media thing: I first remember hearing that in the 80s during the Reagan Administration. It may have been around longer, but I didn't follow mainstream media much before that. I constantly hear the Republicans refer to the liberal media, and I thought they were really talking about the left wing press at first. When I realized they meant the mainstream networks and major newspapers I almost fell on the floor, because they always seemed "straight" or conservative to me.

But here is a key detail: you always hear the general complaint from the right, and they wear their "don't believe the liberal media" buttons, but I've never heard a specific complaint; I've never heard them call out and identify specific instances of false information designed to create political confusion of win partisan points in the so-called liberal media. The truth is that the media has been so cowed by the constant attacks from the right that they've stopped pointing out when the right wing spreads blatant falsehoods via announcements from their Congressional leaders or the RNC news channel known as FOX.

On the left, criticism of the media is constantly pointing out specific details of misinformation and distortions, and providing the corrections. It's like the right doesn't need to do this because their followers are already primed and trained by decades of sloganeering to reflexively believe that every single piece of information in the Times or on CBS is a lie, even though most people who believe this would be extremely hard pressed to identify all these lies and substitute the corrections.
In math it's called LCD -- lowest common denominator.
Of course that's how it works. It isn't an actual accusation on the part of those who originated it, it's a strategem. Newt Gingrich had a lot to do with that sort of thing. If you keep saying "liberal media" over and over, media will do what it has to do to prove it's not liberal because the sad truth about the media is that the appearance of impartiality is far more valuable to them than actual impartiality is. This strategem has the further advantage of giving whichever side misbehaves more a free pass for how much worse they are because to point out the truth would be to appear biased.

Repetition has its advantages, particularly when you're targeting part of the electorate that doesn't like to think. (If you think I'm kidding, ask yourself why anyone would willingly call him/herself a "dittohead." Not just for Rush, for anybody. What are the implications of that word?) That's how we got the birther movement, "Obama is Muslim" (who was too close to his pastor), and "tax and spend liberal."
What's ironic about the formula "tax and spend" is that at least it has the chance of being fiscally responsible in the sense of eliminating deficits. The Republicans for 30 years now have been "cut tax and spend", whether consciously or not part of a "starve the beast" strategy to "drown government in the bathtub," which is why we are in the budget difficulties we see today.

There is a UVA psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, who has some interesting things to say about the differing moral basis of liberal and conservative political views. He divides morality into 5 categories: fairness, caring/reduce harm, group loyalty, respect for authority, purity/sanctity. Liberals are very concerned about the first two and deemphasize the latter three. Conservatives are closer to a balance on all 5 but they slightly favor the latter 3 over the former 2.

The point I wanted to make here was that these latter three give some insight into why the Republicans have some political advantages: group loyalty, respect for authority, purity/sanctity lead to a political discipline that liberals don't seem to be able to muster. Organizing liberals is more like herding cats, whereas Republicans are much better at falling into lockstep and chanting group approved slogans and adhering to ideological purity.

This is what has enabled them over three decades to achieve significant changes to public consciousness such as: small government is best, low taxes, low regulation, local control, private sector market based solutions, liberal is a dirty word, the media are liberal liars. They seem to have very effectively propagandized a large segment of the population to feel these things are right in their gut, as a visceral emotional thing, and they follow it with tunnel vision in a one-way ratcheting downward move, even though they've never really deliberated seriously about the consequences or engaged in rational detailed debate about the alternatives or checks and balances. The concepts of effective government balancing liberty against restraint, competition against cooperation, individual against collective solutions are not as much a widely understood part of the public dialog.