Baum on Money: A Better Porta-Potty

Caroline Baum's take on issues affecting the U.S. economy this morning. 

Good morning, all. It's a new day, and finally some progress to report on efforts to reopen the government and raise the debt limit. While we await the outcome, you can check out what I'm reading this morning.

Obama wins, Republicans lose standing with public

Here's the latest from Politico. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have reached a deal that would reopen the government until Jan. 15, raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7 and require both Houses to negotiate long-term budget issues by Dec. 13. If this sounds familiar, it is. Just don't call it a supercommittee. What did the GOP get for its efforts? "They barely nicked Obamacare and their poll numbers are in the tank," Politico writes. Doesn't sound like a very good trade. House Republicans have yet to weigh in. And, unless the current rancor dissipates, we can look forward to another confrontation in a few months.

Strange bedfellows or opposite sides of the coin?

When the Royal Swedish Academy announced the winners for the Nobel Prize in economics yesterday -- Eugene Fama, Robert Shiller and Lars Peter Hansen -- the reaction was pretty much the same: an odd mix. Fama is the father of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis; Shiller, a behavioral economist, is a critic of the theory. (Hansen's contribution is in the area of econometric modeling techniques, which you should read about elsewhere.) On further reflection, the Financial Times' John Authers says the award makes perfect sense. "Both Fama and Shiller are crucial figures in the ongoing academic attempt to understand how securities markets are valued," he writes. Not everyone was convinced. "Like giving a prize to the Yankees and the Red Sox," Nobel laureate Robert Solow tells Bloomberg News.

Supporters abandonsinking ship

What did the White House know and when did it know it? That's what the Washington Post's Ezra Klein wants to know about the problems associated with the Obamacare roll-out on Oct. 1. It's hard to know if there are "problems behind the problems" because the websites aren't functioning well enough to assess the reconciliation system between the federal government and insurers. "Glitches" seems to be a gross understatement for the failures of the online exchanges. For the record, a friend from California tells me she had no trouble with the insurance exchange website, which is being run by the state. Why am I not surprised that smaller is better when it comes to this stuff?

Hot housing markets coolingoff

For certain areas of the country, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, a housing boom-turned-bust-turned-boom is cooling off. Using data from various regional Multiple Listing Services, the Wall Street Journal's Nick Timiraos reports a pullback in investor (or cash) purchases in these hot areas. The good news is "few signs of any shadow inventory of foreclosures" in Phoenix. And in Vegas, homes are selling for 10 percent less than they were a few months ago, with builders offering "generous incentives, such as home upgrades to buyers and commissions to real-estate agents, in order to stay competitive," Timiraos writes. Is there a third option, or is the choice between boom and bust?

What's the matter with a porta-potty?

When it comes to waste, fraud and abuse, no one does it better than the government. The National Park Service just supervised the installation of a "comfort station" at the Manassas National Battlefield Park, complete with faux stone siding. The cost: $578,000. And only after the government signed off on the 449-page proposal.

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    Caroline Baum

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