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Econospinning: How to Read Between the Lines When the Media Manipulate the Numbers 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0471735137
ISBN-10: 0471735132
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Editorial Reviews


"Econospinning has everything going for it. The book's focus - how economists and publications mislead readers, often to buttress their ideological positions - is inherently important."--Australian Financial Review

"There is lots more to Epstein's book and it is all of the highest quality."  (Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Winter 2007)

From the Inside Flap

The way the economy is interpreted can influence many things, from economic policy and business decisions to investment planning and trading strategies. Yet with general interest magazines devoting ever more space to economic issues, with books on these issues routinely making the bestseller list, and with hundreds of media outlets providing 24/7 coverage of economic data, it is harder than ever to separate the substance from the spin.

That's the finding of Gene Epstein, who should know a thing or two about the economy, having covered the subject for Barron's since 1993, when he became the Dow Jones financial weekly's first Economics Editor and began writing the regular column, "Economic Beat." Now, in Econospinning, Epstein cuts through the veil of economic misinformation commonly reported in today's media. Each chapter of Econospinning is structured around fairly simple propositions about the economy or about specific economic data—from tracking employment numbers to measuring corporate profitability—that are then contrasted with the distortions of today's media coverage.

Along the way, Epstein exposes loose reporting by focusing almost strictly on the elite media, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The Economist.Wherever relevant, Epstein expands on criticisms originally leveled against the reportage of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman by the paper's then-public editor Daniel Okrent. At the time, Okrent touched off a firestorm of protest from bloggers and credentialed professionals eager to defend their champion, even when his criticisms were more than transparently valid, as Epstein shows in painstaking detail.

Econospinning also devotes separate chapters to the coverage of outsourcing and globalization by CNN newscaster Lou Dobbs, whose slant on these topics Epstein finds to be jingoistic at bottom; to the bestseller Freakonomics, whose better-known arguments—on the connection between abortion and lower crime rates, and on the deleterious role of real estate brokers—are exposed as groundless; and to the semi-classic Nickel and Dimed, whose core thesis—that hard work by the working poor is a sucker's game—is easily disproved. The book also critiques coverage of the employment numbers by the CNBC-TV show Squawk Box.

As a corrective to certain key misconceptions about the economy and economic data, and as a series of lessons on how to discriminate between spin and substance, Econo-spinning is an informative, entertaining, and unforgettable read.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471735132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471735137
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,998,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Dear "Auros of Palo Alto":

If you're going to "review" my book without bothering to read any of it, your remarks should at least be cribbed from someone who actually has read it. But blogger Brad DeLong, whose critique you parrot in detail, barely finished a few paragraphs, as you yourself will discover if you check out my response to DeLong on my own blog, running commentary on media reaction to my book.

Just for starters, you'll find that if DeLong had only finished reading the three pages my book devotes to the employment report and the bond market, he would have discovered that I did not commit the naive error he attributes to me--and which you, as DeLong's dupe, then repeat.

Of course I looked at the bond market's response to the employment report immediately before the data are released, as DeLong would have discovered if he'd only read a few more paragraphs in that three-page section. Do you think I could write for a sophisticated market weekly like Barron's for the past 14 years and not know that markets move on expectations?

By trusting DeLong, dear Auros-of-Palo-Alto, you remind me of the dumb guy from junior high who didn't even know to cheat off someone who had actually done the reading!

But it's not too late to reform. Try reading my blog, then try my book--and then I suggest you try writing a review based on your own opinions.


Gene Epstein
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By BarryM on September 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
My favorite parts of the book are 1) Epstein's surprisingly simple demolishing of the Freakonomics abortion thesis 2) the exposure of NY Times columnist Krugman's unwillingness to acknowledge the coming eldercare-entitlement crisis 3) The tidbit at the end about Malcom Gladwell on healthcare and "moral hazard."

The reviewer below apparently hasn't read the book--he simply read the blog of Brad DeLong. He has plucked out exactly same sections of the book as Delong, while echoing verbatim what DeLong wrote about Epstein's book. DeLong, a University of California economist, happens to be criticized in Epstein's book, which apparently set him off on a rant on his blog peppered with phrases like "Epstein has the stupids" and "Must... adjust medication doses."
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By David Weinstein on November 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I am an average reader to economists: never took a course in the subject, have read and heard statistics quoted and interpreted in the mass media. I appreciate the correction in this book of errors in the mass media. I shall look upon the writers and publications scrutinized by this book with stronger analysis now. But I wish the author of this book had enjoyed the privilege of a better editor.

One disappointment about this book is that it itself commits errors. In the name of identifying journalist errors, it commits author errors. They are of the sort a non-economist editor would notice. They may not always affect the author's thesis or argument but they make the thesis and argument less accessible to the public.

(Page number references are from the year 2005, hardcover edition.)

One type of error is carelessness. In a somewhat unimportant error, Epstein says that unincorporated self-employment is the only category that the Household Jobs Survey includes and that the Establishment Survey omits (33). Epstein himself was pointing out three paragraphs earlier, though, that agricultural occupations -- farming, forestry, fishing, and hunting -- are overlooked by the Establishment Survey while included in the Household Survey. Even though the growth of agricultural occupations was flat over recent years, to say later that only unincorporated self-employment is tracked by the Household Survey and omited by the Establishment Survey is to speak too loosely for the average reader to follow.

Epstein complicates acceptance of his views by committing errors of inconsistency.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Tommy Z on October 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In many ways this book is a gem. It encourages critical thinking and it provides useful information on employment data and variety of other topics. However, if you are an average reader hoping that after reading this book you will be able to identify when the media manipulate the numbers, you will probably be disappointed. Even Mr. Epstein suggests in the last paragraph of the book that he did not have much to say to help an average reader cope with econospinning. This is too bad because most people could benefit from his general approach to the issues: go straight to the source of data, make your calculations and logic transparent and respectfully challenge people who engage in spinning.

If you decide to read this book, your payoff for going through rather dry writing is greater transparency of some of the key economic and social data as well as unmasking political agendas of New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other media outlets. The pay off to the reader could be even greater if Mr. Epstein spent more time describing his rationale for choosing certain sets of data. For example, it would be interesting to hear why it makes sense to measure corporate profits as a percentage of GDP (and why not adjust profits to reflect accounting changes). It would also be interesting to hear why Mr. Epstein did not push the numbers further in his critique of Nickel and Dimed by taking a closer look at the debt burden of the poor and trends among working poor.

Finally, the book would be a little easier read for an average reader if Mr. Epstein used consistent data for a number of civilian noninstitutional population of 16 and over (or explained such a big difference from one year to another): 292.4 million for 2005 (on page 29) and 222.8 million for 2004 (on page 23).
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