Tag: media

Gee Whiz, Incentives Matter

By James Kwak

Back in the heady days of the financial crisis, I used to recommend Planet Money as a good way for non-specialists to learn about some of the basic economic and financial issues involved. Over the years, I’ve become less thrilled with the show, for reasons that will become obvious below. In particular, whenever Ira Glass dedicates a full This American Life episode to a Planet Money story, I cringe nervously, but I listen to it anyway, since, well, I’ve listened to just about every TAL episode ever, and I’m not about to stop now.

But I can’t let this weekend’s episode, on Social Security disability benefits, pass without comment. In it, Chana Joffe-Walt “investigates” the Social Security disability program, first by visiting Hale County in Alabama, where 25% of all working age adults are receiving disability benefits, and then by talking to different types of people (lawyers and public sector contractors) who help people apply for benefits.

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43.4 = 30.9?

By James Kwak

Adam Davidson wrote his latest New York Times Magazine column about how Barack Obama and Mitt Romney largely agree on economic questions. This is a classic example of how to mislead through deceptively selective citation.

Here’s the core assertion:

For someone who lived in the first 150 years or so of this country, it might be hard to see what’s so different about the economic policies of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Romney seeks a 25 percent top corporate tax rate, and Obama is proposing 28 percent. Romney wants to eliminate capital-gains taxes for the typical investor and leave the rate at 15 percent for higher earners. Obama wants to increase it to 20 percent. They differ on how to tax the highest incomes. But for most Americans, the distinctions might be mistaken for a rounding error. Both men strongly support expanding free trade and maintaining close to the same level of Social Security and welfare benefits.

As anyone who follows fiscal policy knows, the corporate tax rate is a sideshow. It’s the individual income tax and payroll taxes that bring in the big dollars, and it’s the individual income tax that has the real impact (or not) on inequality.

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Barack Obama and Harry Potter

By James Kwak

Helene Cooper of the New York Times wrote a “news analysis” story saying that the challenge for President Obama is this:

“Is he willing to try to administer the disagreeable medicine that could help the economy mend over the long term, even if that means damaging his chances for re-election?”

The problem, she goes on to say in the next paragraph, is that the economy is in bad shape:

“The Federal Reserve’s finding on Tuesday that there is little prospect for rapid economic growth over the next two years was the latest in a summer of bad economic news.”

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February 18, 2011

By James Kwak

Thank you for all the suggestions about my post on the3six5. I decided to write about my favorite topic: my daughter. But at the suggestion of several people, here’s another one (also limited to 365 words and in diary style).


Today I spent another two hours in the car, mostly on Interstate 91.

The section between Amherst and Hartford is the stretch of highway I know best in all the world. For six years I went to the Hartford airport every week or two for business. For three years I’ve been driving to New Haven for school. And I recently accepted a job in Hartford.

The thing that makes it at all tolerable is the radio — more specifically, the podcasts I play from my phone. My favorite, loyal readers know, is This American Life, followed by RadioLab, Planet Money, Fresh Air, and TED Talks. (When I’m too tired for anything even remotely intellectual, I listen to embarrassing music on Pandora.)

Most of those shows come from NPR or its affiliates. The spending cuts just passed by House Republicans eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which according to Wikipedia provides about 17 percent of all funding for public broadcasting stations.

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Move Along

Yves Smith has a very good post on how hard much of the mainstream media has fallen for the “everything is OK, go on with your lives” theme. She cites the Pew Research Center to show that media coverage of the financial crisis and recession has focused primarily on political battles – stimulus, bailouts, etc. – rather than on problems in the real economy. What’s more, economic coverage in general has fallen off since the stock market rebound earlier this year and the Obama administration’s “all clear” signal. She also discusses psychological research that shows that people can be easily influenced to believe things that are not true, simply because people around them seem to believe those things.

Smith traces this phenomenon to two main sources: the steady evolution of journalism into a traditional profit-oriented business than can no longer afford to invest heavily in investigative journalism; and the increased ability of political leaders, following the lead of private corporations, to control the message that is transmitted via the media. The Bush administration was allegedly the master of the latter, although the fact that they were so obvious about it sort of undermines that claim. (Although probably their attitude was that they didn’t care if the “New York liberal elite” saw how they were manipulating press coverage.) But the Obama administration is no slouch either.

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