Getting it Right

Getting it Right  –  Some people don’t know when to shut up. 

Five minutes after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its employment report, former GE CEO and management guru Jack Welch tweeted “Unbelievable jobs numbers … these Chicago guys will do anything … can’t debate so change numbers.” 

The post was re-tweeted over 5,000 times in the next 10 hours. When contacted by various reporters and papers, he repeated his assertion: the unemployment statistic seemed unrealistically positive. The household survey—from which we derive the unemployment rate—showed the addition of over 800 thousand jobs in September, after six months of stagnation. “Coincidence?” he asked, “I don’t think so!”

It’s certainly true that in the two employment surveys—the household survey based on 60 thousand interviews and an establishment survey based on 140 thousand businesses and government agencies—estimates are necessary and subject to interpretation. And a long time ago it was noted that people willingly see what they wish to see in all kinds of situations

But questioning the best way to interpret a complex report with thousands of inputs and hundreds of outputs is one thing. Attributing an inconvenient statistic to “Chicago-style” boss politics is quite another. The career bureaucrats who staff the BLS and the Energy Information Agency and other government statistical bureaus don’t want to play politics. They just want to do their jobs and go home in the evening. Jack Welch was foolish to question their integrity, and stupid not to back down when he could.

There are lots of problems with our government—perverse incentives, rent-seeking interest groups, system-gaming—that need informed critique. But our economic indicators aren’t one of them.

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