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Friday, October 24, 2003

Unemployment Statistics

It looks to me, that right this second, Paul Krugman is one of the top ten most famous American economists of all time. It seems to me that every 5th article or so that I've been reading, whether blog or old media, and whether left, right, or center, mentions him. His book is a best seller and his NY Times column is hugely popular. Very impressive.

I started with that introduction because I want to make it clear that I'm not going out of my way to criticize Krugman. It's just that when I follow links, I often end up at something Krugman has written, and as I've mentioned previously, usually his economic columns are (I think) pretty good.

However, in today's NY Times OpEd by Krugman, Too Low a Bar, the following made me roll my eyes:
"So Mr. Snow is predicting that his boss [Bush] will be the first occupant of the White House since Herbert Hoover to end a term with fewer jobs available than when he started. "

A pretty damning indictment of Bush's domestic economic policy, don't you think? Clearly the worst since Herbert Hoover started the great depression!

But wait a second, though the statement is true, does it really have any significant meaning? Might events, economic cycles, and sheer luck converge to produce an isolated statistic to make Bush look bad? Just for amusement, let's try some other spins of the data instead. It's also true that (barring catastrophic developments not projected by anybody including Krugman), that at the end of Bush's first term, he will preside over more jobs than at the end of the first term of any other president in the history of this country (Bush at about 130M jobs, Clinton the runner-up at about 122M jobs). Or how about this. With the possible exception of Clinton, the unemployment rate will be lower at the end of Bush's first term than the unemployment rate at the end of the first term for any other president since Nixon (Ford 77: 7.5%, Carter 81: 7.5%, Reagan 85: 7.3%, Bush I 93: 7.3%, Clinton 97: 5.3%, Bush II 05: 5.3-6.3%). I'm surprised Krugman didn't point out these interesting anomalies to provide a fair and balanced look at the data.

My statements are also meaningless of course. But I think this is an interesting example of "Figures don't spin, but spinners figure" or however that old saying goes.

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