Tuesday , March 2 2021
Home / Dean Baker
Dean Baker

Dean Baker

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University. He is a regular Truthout columnist and a member of Truthout's Board of Advisers.

Articles by Dean Baker

To prevent the resurgence of the pandemic, can we talk about open-source research?

4 days ago

From Dean Baker
As the vaccination campaign picks up steam, we have many public health experts warning us about a possible resurgence of the pandemic due to the spread of new vaccine-resistant strains. The logic is that, as more people are protected against the predominant strain for which the vaccines were designed, it will allow room for mutations to spread, for which the current vaccines may not be effective. This can leave us in a whack-a-mole situation, where we have to constantly alter our vaccines and do new rounds of inoculations to limit the death and suffering from the pandemic.

This situation would seem to make the urgency for open-sourcing our research on vaccines even greater than in the past. The point is that we would want evidence on new strains to be shared as

Read More »

Bitcoin and baseball cards

8 days ago

From Dean Baker
I saw this piece last week on the soaring price of baseball cards, and naturally started thinking about Bitcoin. The article begins with a story about how a rare LeBron James trading card (it’s all sports cards, not just baseball cards) would now sell for over $3 million, more than ten times its price in 2016. It then reports on how the prices for rare cards of other famous players have also gone through the roof, with even cards of less great players selling for several million dollars.
The reason this got me thinking about Bitcoin is that the price of Bitcoin has also been soaring. In fact, it has risen considerably faster than the price of baseball cards, increasing more than a hundredfold over the last five years.
Bitcoin as a Currency
Bitcoin proponents see this

Read More »

Want to reverse inequality? Change intellectual property rules

19 days ago

From Dean Baker
The explosion of inequality over the past four decades is appropriately a major focus of the political agenda for progressives. Unfortunately, policy prescriptions usually turn to various taxes directed at the wealthy and very wealthy. While making our tax structure more progressive is important, most of the increase in inequality comes from greater inequality in before-tax income, not from reductions in taxes paid by the rich. And, if we’re serious about reversing that trend, it is easier, as a practical matter, to keep people from getting ridiculously rich in the first place than to tax the money after they have it.
While the Reagan, George W. Bush, and Trump tax cuts all gave more money to the rich, policy changes in other areas, especially intellectual property have

Read More »

Excessive stimulus and other things Larry Summers worries about

22 days ago

From Dean Baker
It seems that Larry Summers is worried that the stimulus proposed by President Biden is too large. I will say at the onset that he could be right. However, at the most fundamental level, we have to ask what the relative risks are of too much relative to too little.
If we actually are pushing the economy too hard, the argument would be that we would see serious inflationary pressures, which could result in the sort of wage-price spiral we saw in the 1970s. As someone who lived through the 1970s, it actually wasn’t that horrible.
Okay, the fashions and hair styles might have been horrible, and I was never a fan of disco, but the period as whole wasn’t that bad. We didn’t have mass starvation and homelessness, but yes, the inflation of the decade was definitely a problem

Read More »

Should people who want to save the world from the pandemic be demanding we pay China to produce billions of vaccine doses?

25 days ago

From Dean Baker
I have written repeatedly on how we should have been looking for a collective solution to the pandemic, where countries open-source their research and allow anyone with manufacturing capacity to produce any treatment, test, or vaccine. (We pay upfront, like with Moderna, for those wondering why anyone would do the work.) Anyhow, we obviously did not go that route under Donald Trump.
Along with many others, I have argued that we should still go this route, sharing all our technology freely, as has been proposed in a WTO resolution put forward by India and South Africa. The U.S. and most European countries have vigorously opposed this measure thus far.
A main argument in the case of vaccines, is that the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna — the only two approved thus far

Read More »

Dealing with a pandemic as if human lives mattered

28 days ago

From Dean Baker
It’s fair to say that the U.S. performance in dealing with the pandemic has been disastrous. With the effort led by Donald Trump, this is not surprising. His main, if not only, concern was keeping up appearances. Preventing the spread of the pandemic, and needless death, was obviously not part of his agenda.
Unfortunately, many other wealthy countries, like France, Belgium, and Sweden, have not done much better. They don’t have the excuse of having a saboteur in charge who was actively trying to prevent the relevant government agencies from doing their jobs.
Anyhow, I thought it would be worth throwing out a few points about how we should have approached the pandemic. While some of this is 20-20 hindsight, I was making most of these points many months ago. I should add,

Read More »

The GameStop game and financial transactions taxes

January 29, 2021

From Dean Baker

The Wall Street crew is furious over the masses at Robinhood and Reddit ruining their games with their mass buying of GameStop, which wiped out the short position of a big hedge fund. The Robinhood/Reddit masses are touting this as a victory over Wall Street. The Wall Street insiders are decrying this effort to turn the market into a casino. It’s worth sorting this one out a bit and answering the question everyone is asking (or should be), would a financial transactions tax fix this problem.
First of all, much has been made of the fact that the hedge fund Melvin Capital was shorting GameStop, as though there is something illicit about shorting a company’s stock. This one requires some closing thinking. In principle, a major purpose of the stock market (we will come

Read More »

Quick thoughts on the minimum wage

January 27, 2021

From Dean Baker
President Biden’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 is prompting a backlash from the usual suspects. As we hear the cries about how this will be the end of the world for small businesses and lead to massive unemployment, especially for young workers, minorities, and the less-educated, there are a few points worth keeping in mind.
While $15 an hour is a large increase from the current $7.25 an hour. This is because we’ve allowed so much time to pass since the last minimum wage hike. The 12 years since the last increase in the minimum wage is the longest period without a hike since the federal minimum wage was first established in 1938. Few workers are now earning the national minimum wage, both because of market conditions and because many states

Read More »

The New York Times has not heard about China’s vaccines (or Russia or India’s)

January 25, 2021

From Dean Baker
It is more than a bit bizarre that the New York Times can run a major piece about the lack of access of developing countries to Covid vaccines and never once mention the vaccines developed by China, Russia, or India. The piece is very useful in highlighting the fact that the United States and Europe have secured the vast majority of the 2021 production of the vaccines developed by western drug companies, leaving relatively few doses for the developing world. As a result, developing countries may continue to be afflicted by the pandemic well into 2022, with enormous human and economic costs.
That is an important story that needs to be told, but another aspect of this picture is that China, Russia, and India are making vaccines available to many countries in the

Read More »

Trump crazy and intellectual crazy

January 20, 2021

From Dean Baker
– the ways in which the economy has been structured to redistribute income upward
It’s hard not to be appalled and scared by the reality denial of Donald Trump’s followers. Their willingness to insist an election was stolen, with no evidence whatsoever, is difficult to understand for those of who like to think that people respond to facts and logic.
I don’t have any easy answers to get these people to start thinking clearly, but I will point out that it is not just ignorant and/or crazed Trumpers who have trouble dealing with reality. Many of our leading intellectuals and our major media outlets have similar difficulty dealing with reality when it doesn’t fit their conceptions of the world.
In particular, I am referring to my standard complaint about the unwillingness

Read More »

Even in the face of coup attempt, NYT continues propaganda for upward redistribution through trade

January 19, 2021

From Dean Baker
I have repeatedly raised the point that media accounts routinely use the term “free trade” when they can more accurately say simply “trade” or trade policy. It is amazing to me that this practice continues.
We saw it yet again in a NYT article on how many Republicans continue to be faithful to Trump even after last week’s coup attempt. The article told readers:
“Anthony Sabatini, a Florida state representative, described Ms. Cheney and other Republicans who voted for impeachment as ‘artifacts,’ saying they were out of step in a party that has embraced a more populist platform opposed to foreign interventions and skeptical of free trade.”
As I have pointed out endlessly, we do not have a policy of “free trade.” We do not allow foreign trained professionals, such as

Read More »

Debt and deficits, yet again

January 14, 2021

From Dean Baker
With a Democrat in the White House, the season of the deficit hawk has returned. So, it’s worth going through the old arguments just to remind everyone that the best response to these people is ridicule.
It looks like President Biden will propose a robust stimulus package of well over $1 trillion. According to press accounts, the package is likely to include another check for $2,000. (I believe it is supposed to $1,400 above the $600 in the last package.) It is likely to include a refundable child tax credit that will do much to reduce child poverty.
It will also include money to state and local governments to make up massive pandemic induced shortfalls. There will also be money for mass transit and a down payment on green new deal programs. Biden also plans to increase

Read More »

End of the year thoughts on inequality and its remedies

January 1, 2021

From Dean Baker
The approach of the end of the year seems a good time to sum up thoughts. My comments here will not be news to regular readers, but may be to others. Also, this exercise is helpful for me to keep my thoughts clear. (I also expect to take next week off, so you won’t be hearing from me for a while.)
Most of my work for the last several years has been focused on ways to reduce before tax inequality by reducing the amount of before-tax income that goes to those at the top of the income distribution. For better or worse, there don’t seem to be a lot of progressives that share this beat. There are a few points that are worth making.
First, my focus on reducing income at the top doesn’t mean for a second that I don’t see efforts at raising income for those at the bottom (and

Read More »

China has the world’s largest economy: Get over it

December 27, 2020

From Dean Baker
It is more than a bit annoying to hear reporters endlessly refer to China as the world’s second largest economy. It isn’t. It’s the world’s largest economy and has been since 2017. Here are the data from the International Monetary Fund.

Source: International Monetary Fund.
As the chart shows, China’s economy first passed the U.S. in 2017. It is projected to be more than 16 percent larger this year, and by 2025 is projected to be almost 40 percent larger by 2025.
Purchasing power parity (PPP) measures of GDP are based on applying a common  set of prices for all goods and services produced across countries. While it is difficult to measure accurately, most economists view PPP as being the better way to calculate GDP, since it reflects living standards and does not

Read More »

Time to end patent monopolies

December 25, 2020

From Dean Baker

For several years the opioid crisis has been recognized as a major national catastrophe. Millions of people have become addicted to the new generation of opioid drugs. In many cases, this addiction has led to the destruction of families, job loss, crime, and suicide. At the peak of the crisis in West Virginia, the hardest hit state, the death rate from overdoses alone, was more than 41 people per 100,000. This is more than 70 percent of its fatality rate from the pandemic, as of mid-December. And this doesn’t count deaths due to crime or opioid-related health conditions. Opioids are a big part of the story of the state’s drop in life expectancy over the last quarter century.
The crisis did not just happen by chance. As we now know, drug manufacturers and distributors

Read More »

Bloomberg is concerned that Janet Yellen’s dollar policy may lessen wealth inequality

December 22, 2020

From Dean Baker
You don’t have to look far, it’s literally the first sentence in a Bloomberg piece on dollar policy under incoming Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
“Janet Yellen once touted the benefits of a weaker greenback for exports, but as the incoming Treasury secretary, she faces pressure to return the U.S. to a “strong-dollar” policy — and may cause trembles on Wall Street if she doesn’t.”
For folks who don’t know, the vast majority of U.S. stock is held by the richest 10 percent of households in the country, with the richest 1 percent holding close to 50 percent of all stock wealth. The run-up in the stock market over the last four decades has been the main factor behind the rise in the inequality of wealth over this period. A drop in the stock market would reduce wealth

Read More »

Big Pharma strikes back

December 16, 2020

From Dean Baker and Arjun Jayadev
On Monday, we, along with Achal Prabhala, had a column in the New York Times arguing in support of a resolution put forward before the WTO by India and South Africa, which would suspend intellectual property rights related to vaccines and treatments during the pandemic. The main point is that these rights are slowing the diffusion of life-saving medicines in a crisis. Furthermore, since much or all the cost of developing these vaccines and treatments were picked up by various governments, the drug companies would still be earning back their investment, plus a healthy profit, even with this suspension.
Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry is not letting this proposal go unchallenged in public debate. Thomas Cueni, the director-general of the

Read More »

Beating up on finance

December 8, 2020

From Dean Baker
When I do one of my diatribes about how our protectionist barriers allow U.S. doctors to earn twice as much as doctors in other wealthy countries, I invariably get complaints from doctors and their friends asking why I don’t go after the really big bucks people on Wall Street. The answer of course is that I do, but the bloated paychecks on Wall Street are not a reason to pay an extra $100 billion a year ($750 per household) to doctors in the United States. But it is true that I haven’t beaten up on the financial sector for a while, and with Biden now putting together his administration, this would be a great time to take a few shots.
First, we need some important background. Finance is an intermediate good, like trucking. It does not directly provide value to people

Read More »

More bad news about the Pandemic Recession: Longer hours

December 3, 2020

From Dean Baker
We know that the economy is likely to get worse in the immediate future as the pandemic is spreading out of control in most parts of the country. However, the latest data on average weekly hours indicates we may be facing a longer-term issue that has not generally been anticipated.
In a normal recession, we see both a loss of jobs and a reduction in hours for those who managed to keep their jobs. The shortening of hours is a better way for employers to deal with reduced demand for labor since it keeps workers attached to their jobs. (This is the argument for work-sharing as an alternative to unemployment.) However, in this recession, we are actually seeing some lengthening of the average workweek, not the usual shortening.
The chart below compares the change in the

Read More »

The real reasons wages are low

November 30, 2020

From Dean Baker
It’s good to see the New York Times making the case for higher wages in an editorial. Unfortunately, they get much of the story confused.
First off, the essence of the case is that higher wages will lead to more consumption, which will spur growth. This is true, but higher pay is not the only way to generate more demand. We also get more demand with larger budget deficits, lower interest rates, and a smaller trade deficit.
But that is the less important problem with the piece. The bigger problem is the assertion that the failure of pay to keep pace with productivity growth over the last four decades is due to higher profits.
“Wages are influenced by a tug of war between employers and workers, and employers have been winning. One clear piece of evidence is the yawning

Read More »

How many lives would have been saved if we had collaborated on vaccines with China?

November 24, 2020

From Dean Baker
We know that Republican office holders are not allowed to say that Joe Biden won the election. Apparently there is a similar ban in place for news outlets when it comes to the question of the United States collaborating with China, and other countries, in developing vaccines against the pandemic.
In recent days, there have been articles in several major news outlets about how China vaccinated close to 1 million people, under an Emergency Use Authorization, for vaccines that are currently in Phase 3 clinical testing (here, here, here, and here). While large-scale distribution of vaccines, that have not completed testing for safety and effectiveness, is probably not a good public health practice, none of these pieces raised any questions about whether the United States,

Read More »

The Krugman boom: Don’t bank on It

November 22, 2020

From Dean Baker
I have largely been in agreement with Paul Krugman in his assessment of the economy over the last dozen years or so, but I think in his latest column he let the promise of a post-Trump era get the better of him. Krugman notes that the distribution of effective vaccines should allow people to return to their normal lives.
He argues that this will lead to a spending boom, as consumers have accumulated savings through the slump and will now be in a position to spend lots of money. As a model he points to the boom in 1983 and 1984 after the Fed lowered interest rates.
While I have not been one of the doomsayers predicting economic collapse, I can’t be as optimistic as Paul on this one. First, just to be clear, Krugman does not at all question the need for immediate and

Read More »

“Protecting Intellectual Property” against China means redistributing income upward

November 19, 2020

From Dean Baker
The New York Times had an article discussing the prospects for U.S. trade relations with China during Biden’s presidency. At one point it tells readers:
“Mr. Biden has given few details about his plans for U.S.-China relations, other than saying he wants to recruit American allies such as Europe and Japan to pressure China to make economic reforms, like protecting intellectual property.”
Stronger and longer patent and copyright protections have redistributed enormous amounts of income upward over the past four decades, likely more than $1 trillion annually (half of all corporate profits). If Biden plans to put stronger enforcement of U.S. intellectual property claims at the center of his trade relations with China, it means he wants to redistribute even more money away

Read More »

Lowering the bar on success: Megan McArdle on drug development

November 16, 2020

From Dean Baker
Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle was anxious to tell readers that drug development in the pandemic has been a great success story. After all, look at all the treatments we have, and now it appears that Pfizer/BioNtech have developed a highly effective vaccine. What could be better than that?
Well, first we need a bit of perspective. Yes, we place an enormous value on our health and our lives, so getting effective treatments and vaccines quickly are extremely important. But we do also care about what we pay to get there.
To take my favorite analogy, the firefighter who goes into a burning building to rescue a couple of children can be said to deserve many millions of dollars. After all, we put a huge value on human life. While firefighters are reasonably

Read More »

Donald Trump and being deplorable

November 5, 2020

From Dean Baker
As it increasingly looks like Joe Biden has won the election, I see many people around me appalled that so many of their fellow citizens can vote for someone as racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive as Donald Trump. Given what we know about the guy, and think everyone else should know about him as well, it is hard not to be appalled.

But we will not get anywhere politically by looking at half the country with disgust. Trying to win over some of Trump’s voters doesn’t mean giving in to Trump’s racism and sexism, it is about recognizing that large segments of the country have not benefitted from the economy’s growth over the last four decades as a result of deliberate policy.

This group does not at all coincide perfectly with the group of people who support Trump.

Read More »

Government-granted patent monopolies gave Purdue Pharma incentives to push opioids

October 22, 2020

From Dean Baker
Maybe this is too obvious a point, but I don’t see it mentioned in news coverage of the company’s settlement. If we could ever have a serious debate on the relative merits of government-granted patent monopolies compared with direct upfront funding, as we did with Moderna’s research on a coronavirus vaccine, the incentive that patents give to lie about the safety and effectiveness of drugs would be an important factor.
Unfortunately, we may never have this debate because our policy types refuse to consider any alternatives to the patent monopoly system. It’s sort of like in the days of the Soviet Union, they didn’t have public debates on the merits of central planning.

Read More »

Waiting for a vaccine and the collaborative research alternative

October 17, 2020

From Dean Baker
It seems increasingly likely that China will begin providing vaccines to its own people, as well as those in some other countries, by December, and possibly as early as next month. The prospect of a vaccine being available that soon has to look good to people here, now that the Trump administration’s pandemic control efforts have completely failed. The whole country would like to get back to normal, but that doesn’t seem like a serious possibility until we have an effective vaccine widely available.
It seems China’s leading vaccine makers got ahead of the ones in the U.S. and Europe by using the old-fashioned dead virus approach to developing a vaccine. This is well-known technology that they were apparently able to quickly adapt for a vaccine providing protection

Read More »

Waiting for a vaccine: Killing for inequality

October 11, 2020

From Dean Baker

I have been harping on the fact that it is very likely China will be mass producing and distributing a vaccine at least a month, and quite possibly several months, before the United States. This should make people very angry.
Even a month’s delay is likely to mean tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and hundreds of thousands of avoidable infections. And, it adds a month to the time period before we can get back to living normal lives. Of course, the delay could end up being many months, since we still have no idea how the clinical trials will turn out for the leading U.S. contenders.
We are in the situation where we can be waiting several months for a vaccine, after one has already been demonstrated to be safe and effective, because the Trump administration opted to

Read More »

Patent monopolies in prescription drugs cause corruption # 43,508

October 5, 2020

From Dean Baker
Economists and economic reporters all know that tariffs can lead to corruption. The idea is that if a government-imposed tariff raises the price of a product by 10-25 percent above the free market price, companies have a large incentive to find ways to avoid the tariff. This can mean reclassifying imports to get around the tariff or trying to curry favor with politicians to get exemptions. The New York Times and ProPublica have run several excellent pieces providing examples of such behavior (e.g. here, here, and here).
The reasonable takeaway from these stories is that tariffs should be applied sparingly and with clear purposes in mind. Indiscriminate use of tariffs is likely to lead to large-scale corruption, as corporations use their political power to gain special

Read More »

It’s not vaccine nationalism, it’s vaccine idiocy

September 25, 2020

From Dean Baker
Last week an official with China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the country may have a vaccine available for widespread distribution by November or December. This would almost certainly be at least a month or two before a vaccine is available for distribution in the United States, and possibly quite a bit longer.
While we may want to treat statements from Chinese government officials with some skepticism, there is reason to believe that this claim is close to the mark. China has reported giving its vaccines to more than 100,000 people. In addition to giving it to tens of thousands of people enrolled in clinical trials, it also has given them to front line workers, such as medical personal, through an emergency use authorization.
This may not

Read More »