Friday, September 6, 2013

Economists' Myopia Ends with Euphoric Fist Pumping

Surreal! Earlier today, the latest Employment Situation report saw CNBC's guest economists figuratively-high-fiving each other for nailing the headline number. In anticipation to the release, guesses ranged between 170 thousand and 181 thousand. The final number was a seemingly adequate 169 thousand in additional payrolls for the month of August.
Screen shot of CNBC's website
CNBC Economists Panel after the Employment Data
What's the problem then? Well, that none of these math experts could see the proverbial book cooking by the government. The fact that last month's data was over stated by a massive 58 thousand and that June's data was revised down by another 16 thousand seem to make no difference to them. In a surreal way, the headline number's proximity to expectations was all that was required for the celebratory euphoria to begin.
Only perpetual-realist Rick Santelli could see the miss. I sometimes wonder the kind of KoolAid economists drink that turns garbage into beautiful data.
To see what's bothering me, let's take the same total change while allocating the changes differently. Let's just say that the prior two months had remained unadjusted while the latest month was instead reported as 96 thousand for August. Would they had displayed the same sense of accomplishment? While talking about equal total changes, the headline would be much worse.
At some point during their conversation, they even seemed ready to accept a theory that August will be revised up by about 50 thousand next month. First, such is simple speculation. Second, even a speculative 50 thousand in additional payrolls would only take our 96 thousand August up to 146 thousand; which is still a very bad number.
In a nutshell, the employment numbers continue to be bad. Moreover, the economic reporting agencies continue to make the headline numbers look better than reality. They just wait a month before reporting the real number. After all, most people find it hard to read past headlines. Yes, we are witnessing the ugliest pig with the most lipstick in a long time.
Black and white photo image of Che Guevara's face
Perhaps one of these days we will stop blaming the Bush administration or even greedy bankers for the bad economic environment. Perhaps at some point we will see that our pseudo-communist president has taken us a route of stagnation thanks to plain economic ignorance.
I just finished reading a fantastic book about the charismatic revolutionary Che Guevara. What the book left me was an understanding that Che had deep convictions that were wrong on economics while also being quite damaging to the people he tried to help. He spent his whole life unsuccessfully attempting to make his model work. But this was something that no one, including Lenin, Trotsky, Mao or Marx, could make succeed. The inevitable failures made him depressed and later forced him into badly planned battles. In a way, the book depicts a sad story of misguided intentions.
If you are like me, the fact that history brings us plenty of examples of what not-to-do should be enough to keep us from repeating past mistakes.
I can't wait until economic sanity comes back to markets.


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  2. Check out John Williams shadow goverment statistics at

    1. Rodolfo,
      I very much follow I find it healthy that they keep an eye on those cooking the books in Washington.