Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Question for Conservatives

The immediate BLS conspiracy assumption from many Republicans (and while it wasn't all of them, it was certainly widespread) after the jobs numbers on Friday: a big deal, or not?


  1. depends. how closely was F Malek involved?

  2. It was foolish, because the BLS statisticians are apolitical professionals, and if some staunch partisan Democrat among them tried to bend the figures to benefit the President, his colleagues would have almost certainly caught him. But I do not see how it can be an important factor in the election; it was just noise on one particular day (last Friday). So no, not a big deal at all.

  3. It doesn't matter to the election, but it really bugs me for what it says about our discourse. Preliminary caveat: if any of the following assumptions are incorrect, I'm no expert, so pls let me know.

    One month prior to the election, the September jobs update included yet another inadequate ~100 K new jobs, accompanied by an improbable (but incredibly fortuitous) 0.3% decline in unemployment - below the magic 8% threshold. AFAICT, this change was driven by a staggering 600 K September increase (up an unbelievable 8% vs. August!) in the dreaded category of "marginally attached, involuntarily part-time workers".

    If I understand some BLS employee calls a bunch of households to find out if people are working. Surely there's some sort of policy somewhere defining what counts as "work". Receiving several answers of the "I didn't work last week but I mowed my neighbor's lawn for a sawbuck, man this job market sucks" variety is crystal-clear about what counts as "involuntarily part-time employed" and what is "unemployed", yes?

    Perhaps it is crystal-clear. How would we know? Did the BLS clarify? Or were we left with "This really weird thing occurred that totally benefited our ultimate boss Obama, but we don't have to reconcile it because that would imply a conspiracy and all the hipster kids know there's no such thing as conspiracies".

    If you've ever managed a budget or forecast for a large organization, and your forecast was lagging, but then one month it miraculously came into line because of a massive change in a typically-stable line item, did you tell your management not to bug you to explain it because that would mean they were conspiracy believers?

    If your job was in politics, you probably did.

    Seriously, if DC isn't rife with conspiracies by now, the Beltway politicians are dumber than I thought. In this hyper-partisan world, you don't have to defend anything that smells funny, you just have to make a dismissive, derisive comment about your opponent's tinfoil hat. Why wouldn't that lead to conspiracy frenzy?

    1. Your assumption is that the BLS accountants are going to fudge the numbers because their fear of Obama firing them due to getting the numbers that he doesn't want is greater than their fear of being fired due to publishing cooked numbers. This seems both improbable and poorly-reasoned.

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  5. Who needs a conspracy theory? We already know that unemployment is undercounted as a matter of policy.

  6. Why can't CSH say "Why yes, they are cooked'. It's 299 words shorter, and means the same thing.

  7. Anonymous, I wouldn't say that because I don't know that. I am sure there are plausible explanations for unusual monthly spikes in the population of marginally-attached, involuntarily-part-time employed workers, I'm just not smart enough to know what they might be off the top of my head. Unfortunately, the much smarter people at the BLS didn't feel the need to enlighten me.

    If it matters, I think the involuntary part-time numbers probably aren't cooked, or at least they are not 582,000 cooked.

    But that's a separate issue from being amazed that a professional political organization can publish a subjective, odd data point that highly benefits the boss, and asking for verification is met with the derision of either "they're professionals" or "you're a wingnut".

    Have we all really fallen that far down our respective partisan rabbit holes?

    1. The numbers seem sort of "meh" for Obama. Not good, Not bad. I'll agree the numbers are weird though. Unfortunately, that's not what I've heard said from conservatives. Which is sort of the problem; I'm not hearing "Hey, these numbers are really weird" sort of thing that I'm hearing, it's "Oh, this might be good for the Democrats, it CAN'T be true."

      They way people respond to things is important, as it makes implications as to the reasons behind the response. The origin of the conspiracy theory, the way it's articulated, to me it all positively screams "Right-wing nee jerk response to something that might make Democrats look good." It doesn't look, sound, or read like a intelligent critique like your comments do.

    2. So, CHS - when this *exact same thing* happened the last two Septembers (a rise in part-time employment of 579,000 in September of 2010 and 483,000 in September of 2011), did you similarly assume that the BLS was cooking the books, hoping nefariously to get Obama elected by laying the ground for their master plan of fudging the data twelve to twenty-four months later?

    3. Anonymous - nope, I take your point. Objections withdrawn.

    4. CSH,
      Not piling on here. Rather, I think this subthread is a good place to jump in and note that this is a bit of a consequence of the media focus on the unemployment rate as THE measure of "the economy." As you're noting, that rate is hardly fully demonstrative of the health of the economy; it can go down and mean something real, or just be ephemeral.

      So, in a very real sense, when conservative folks heard "sub 8%" they said "can't be," because it doesn't comport with their sense of the economy. Part of this is because we HAVE gone so far down our partisan holes that it's nearly unthinkable to Repubs that the economy would be improving under a D. But part of it is, because, well, the economy ISN'T doing all that hot. It's not as bad as Fox says, but it ain't great.

      The 7.8% rate is hiding a lot of stuff. However, I would disagree with GRiley; the numbers aren't "meh" for Obama, and you can see that in the reaction to them in conservative circles (and, from what I've read, in Camp Romney when they came out). Rather, they are "meh" for the economy. But, for Obama, they're positive, because an overly simplistic media frame focuses on that unemployment rate as the only metric of the economy.

      Personally, I look at unemployment going down by .3, jobs up by a middling number shy of the "replacement" number (which, fwiw, I've never heard of being adjusted for Boomers entering retirement age, so the number should be lower for a could be correctly demographically adjusted, but I have no idea whether it is, since I always hear the same "replacement" number bandied about), and housing doing well last month as more signs of the sputtering recovery. Some months look better than others, and it's sometimes all positive and sometimes mixed signals by industry or whatever. I figure that, if BLS was cooking the books, they'd do a better job of it (ie, lie about the job gains to the tune of 200K or something to make the 7.8% number not seem incongruous).

      However, to return to JB's question, and of course, IANAC, but: a semi-deal. It's not a big deal for a person to look at the 7.8% and smell a rat at first. That's healthy for an out-party in a democracy to do. What remains to be seen is whether this goes down the climate change path or not. If it goes from healthy skepticism down the "data that are inconvenient for us must be false" path, then it's a big deal.


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