New Issue! Plus, various items

cover of July/August 2011 issue
Cover of July/August 2011 Issue

(1) Our July/August issue is out! E-subscribers got their copies yesterday, and print copies have been shipped to subscribers and newsstands.  Check out Jerry Friedman’s cover story on single-payer–it is a new analysis according to which only a single-payer system can address the cost problem in the U.S. health-care system.

(2) Dry Season Fundraiser: This is our dry season as far as finances go–we have incurred expenses producing and printing our fall textbooks, but book orders have not yet started coming in for the fall semester.  But our bills still need to be paid (including, ahem, payroll).  Please consider making a donation during the month of July.  (Identify yourself as a blog fan in the comments section if you like. We had a nice burst of donations after we sent out an appeal to our email list and to Facebook and Twitter yesterday; let’s see if blog fans can give us another boost.)

Also, with this fundraiser we are offering a special gift–if you donate $50 or more we will send you a free copy of John Miller and Arthur MacEwan’s new book Economic Collapse, Economic Change.  I am about 1/3 of the way through it and I recommend it highly.

(3) Sub-par economic coverage at the New York Times: Early on while I was reading John and Arthur’s new book, I was primed by their cogent account of the history of the economic collapse to notice how crappy one recent NYT article was.  Granted that it was by one of their political reporters, but he should still try to get the economics right.  Here’s the letter I was inspired to write (which they didn’t publish, unsurprisingly):

To the editors:

In “Blaming the Incumbent for the Economy: A Political Tradition” (The Caucus, June 20, 2011), John Harwood reports that most people polled do not blame Obama for the current economic situation, yet most people also disapprove of his economic policies.

This is a puzzling finding, unless we assume two things. First, many people understand that the crisis was the result of prior economic policies. And second, they understand that Obama is to blame for the ongoing severity of the crisis because he didn’t depart enough from those prior policies. That is, he didn’t push forcefully enough for more stimulus, stricter regulation of the financial sector, an industrial policy, etc.

As it turns out, this picture of things is the exact assessment that many economists have made—in particular, any economist that takes Keynes seriously. Yet Harwood only consults economists who work for, or are shills for, Obama’s Republican adversaries.

Is this what we have to look forward to in the Times’ political coverage for this election cycle—reporting and analysis that considers only policy alternatives to Obama’s right?

Christopher J. Sturr

Co-editor, Dollars & Sense magazine

Boston, Mass.

A couple of days later there was more crappy coverage, this time of public sector unions in California.  In this front-page article, readers got to hear about fat-cat public-sector employees with six-figure pensions on the front page of the paper (including the police chief and deputy fire chief of Costa Mesa, plus in Laguna Beach, “the town’s chief lifeguard retired at age 57, with a $113,000-a-year pension after 36 years on the job”).  Only when you turned deep into the paper did you find out that “A public worker enrolled in the state’s largest pension fund who retired in 2008 with more than 30 years of service received a pension of $66,828 a year, on average, and a retiree with 20 to 25 years of service received around $34,872.”

But as Jerry Friedman, who’s working on an article on the assault on public-sector workers for our Sept/Oct annual labor issue, pointed out, the three six-figure positions mentioned on the front page are management positions–these people are surely not even in the union.  Yet the whole article is framed as a story of how unions are in a special position since they can use the proceeds of their dues to influence elections, and the threat of this allows them to extract exorbitant wages and benefits (including shocking $34K pensions!) from their politician bosses.  Of course, private-sector  companies never use money to influence politicians and get their way.  Ever.

(4) Good Times coverage of the economy: Stephen Greenhouse had a post at the NYT‘s Economix blog entitled The Wageless, Profitable Recovery, reviewing recent research results from a group of economists from Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies (The “Jobless and Wageless” Recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009). The research is an update of a point that lots of people had been making at the end of 2010–including the Times‘s Catherine Rampell in this early November Economix post, and our online-only piece The Greatest Recovery, and Doug Henwood at Left Business Observer. It is nice to see the Times hammering home on it, though, and the Northeastern study looks like a good one.

(5) How little will Americans work for? Here’s a funny piece from The Daily Beast:  Minimum Wage Experiment: Americans Will Work for 25 Cents an Hour.  Hat-tip to Kiaran H.  An entirely unscientific experiment–the author of the piece, Thomas E. Weber, used Mechanical Turk, a site for freelancers, to see how little people would accept to listen to recordings of him reading Nixon’s “Checkers” speech for an hour.  It turns out that some U.S. workers would accept $.25/hour for this work, whereas German workers wouldn’t do it for less than $3, Canadians for $1.25.

We agree that this is likely to indicate something about the desperation of the unemployed in the United States.  But it might be that there’s a high tolerance for political drivel here.  Or maybe Americans are so used to being asked to do things for market research that listening to a speech, however dull, doesn’t seem like work.  We welcome alternative explanations.

(6) Briefly noted: Here’s some tabs I’ve been meaning to get off my browser.  Just links–minimal comments:

–Phil Angelides, chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, had a nice WashPo op-ed on revisionist histories of the crisis (NYT political reporters, take note);

–Also in the WashPo–a hilarious piece about Larry Summers accepting a new gig in Silicon Valley, in which he appears to say that tech bubbles are one of the strengths of the U.S. economy:

Summers said he was attracted to the offer because of the potential of the Internet industry.

“On any list of strengths of the American economy, one of the top three has to be that it is the only place in the world where you can raise your first $100 million before you buy your first suit,” Summers said.

Hat-tip to Amy O. for this gem.

–From economist Ann Pettifor:  a blog post about how a Cambridge U. conference on Keynes didn’t invite any actual Keynesians to participate!

–Last but not least, this nice blog post from our pal Mark Engler, who blasts Nick Kristof for revering economists even after all this mess.

That’s all I have.  May your July 4th be revolutionary!

–Chris Sturr



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