Still Far From Full Employment
Department of "Huh?"

Covering the Economy

Michael Froomkin hints that we economists are barking up the wrong tree when we angrily demand that reporters be economists too. Perhaps he thinks that we economists should demand page 3 for ourselves... Dean Baker Wants Numerate Reporting: Economist and one-man economic truth squad Dean Baker has a new blog, Beat the Press, dedicated to "commentary on economic reporting." The inaugural posting asks, reasonably enough, why most economic journalism fails to put raw numbers in context, choosing to report the big exciting number of "$285 billion over the next six years" for the new transportation bill, rather then the more informative, contextualized number of "approximately 1.7 percent of projected federal spending over this period."

In this case, though, it seems to me that this question actually answers itself: $285 billion sounds like a front-page headline; "approximately 1.7% of federal spending over the next six years" sounds like what William Safire used to call a "nine-point MEGO" where the MEGO stood for "my eyes glaze over."... And your economic journalist has, what, fourteen column inches on a good day?

I think Michael has largely missed Dean's point. The right way to put the number is: "$170 per person per year--out of a federal budget that spends $10,000 per person per year." That is neither MEGO, nor does it misinform.