FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Reporters With Pom-Poms

Last week we got a whole series of bad reports on the state of the economy. New and existing home sales both remain near their lowest level for the downturn, as house prices continue to drop at the rate of 2.0 percent a month. New orders for capital goods, a key measure of investment demand, fell by 2.0 percent in April. Excluding the volatile transportation sector, new orders were still down by 1.5 percent.

On Friday, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index fell by more than 5 percentage points from its April level, approaching its low for the downturn. The employment component of the index did hit a new low.

These reports might have led to gloomy news stories, but not in the U.S. media. The folks who could not see an $8 trillion housing bubble are still determined to find the silver lining in even the worst economic news.

For example, National Public Radio told listeners that the new home sales figure reported for April was up from the March level . While this was true, the April figure was only 1,000 higher than a March level that had just been revised down by 5,000. April new home sales were 4,000 below the sales level that had originally been reported for March. USA Today touted a “surge” in durable goods orders, which was also based on a sharp downward revision to the prior month’s data.

The media have obviously abandoned economic reporting and instead have adopted the role of cheerleader, touting whatever good news it can find and inventing good news when none can be found. This leaves the responsibility of reporting on the economy to others.

Any serious examination of the data shows that recovery is nowhere in sight. The basic story of the downturn is painfully simple. We have seen a collapse of a housing bubble which has devastated the construction sector and also caused consumption to plunge.

The construction sector is suffering from the enormous overbuilding during the bubble years. Measured in months of sales, the inventories of both new and existing homes are close to double their normal levels. This inventory will ensure that construction remains badly depressed at least through 2010, if not much longer.

The plunge in house prices has send consumption plummeting. The problem is not consumer attitudes, as many commentators seem to believe. Rather, the reason that most homeowners aren’t buying a lot right now is the same reason that homeless people don’t buy a lot of things: they don’t have the money.

The decline in house prices since the peak in 2006 has cost homeowners close to $6 trillion in lost housing equity. In 2009 alone, falling house prices have destroyed almost $2 trillion in equity. People were spending at an incredible rate in 2004-2007 based on the wealth they had in their homes. This wealth has now vanished.

Housing is weak and falling, consumption is weak and falling, new orders for capital goods in April, the main measure for investment demand, is down 35.6 percent from its year ago level. And, state and local governments across the country, led by California, are laying off workers and cutting back services.

If there is evidence of a recovery in this story it is very hard to find. The more obvious story is one of a downward spiral as more layoffs and further cuts in hours continue to reduce workers’ purchasing power. Furthermore, the weakness in the labor market is putting downward pressure on wages, reducing workers’ purchasing power through a second channel.

Happy talk will not turn this economy around. The economy needs more demand, which can only be provided by another larger dose of stimulus from the federal government. There are easy, quick, and effective ways to boost the economy with additional stimulus.

First, let’s give more money to state and local governments so that they don’t have to lay off workers, cut back services and raise taxes. This should be a complete no-brainer since this spending will immediately boost the economy.

The government could also provide a large boost to the economy by jump-starting health care reform with an employer tax credit (e.g. $2,500 per worker) for firms who do not currently provide coverage. This could quickly get us to near universal coverage as Congress worked to restructure the system to contain costs.

It could also provide a $2,500 tax credit to employers for giving workers paid time off. This should both increase demand in the economy and provide workers with more leisure and flexibility at the workplace.

There are other ways in which the government could quickly generate new demand, but these will not be seriously discussed until there is more general recognition that additional stimulus is needed. At some point it will be impossible to conceal the bad news and Congress’ attention will return to stimulus. But the media’s reality defying happy talk on the economy is delaying this moment.

DEAN BAKER is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy.

This column was originally published by The Guardian.

 

 

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail