The New York Times tries to analyze that!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2011

Your nation’s C-minus newspaper: We’re constantly struck by the low wattage of the New York Times’ political writing.

Latest example: Yesterday morning, Richard Oppel tried to fact-check an ad.

The ad belongs to Rick Perry. In our view, analyzing Perry’s words was a bit too much for the Times.

This is the text of Perry’s ad, which deals with jobs jobs jobs. In the ad, the candidate seems to make a rather obvious claim on his own behalf:
PERRY: As president I’ll create at least two and a half million new jobs, and I know something about that. In Texas we’ve created over one million new jobs while the rest of the nation lost over two million. I’ll start by opening American oil and gas fields. I’ll eliminate President Obama’s regulations that hurt other sources of domestic energy like coal and natural gas. That will create jobs and reduce our reliance on oil from countries that hate America. I’m Rick Perry and I approve of this message.
Oppel tried to analyze that. We’d have to say he failed.

For starters, consider the number of jobs Perry says he’ll create as president. The promised number is oddly low, as Steve Benen notes in this earlier post. Let’s go beyond what Benen wrote: In Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, more than 20 million new jobs were created. (To see Paul Krugman say that, click here. The more typical claim on Clinton’s behalf is “more than 22 million new jobs.”)

It’s odd that Perry promised only 2.5 million jobs. Unless you read the New York Times, where a point like this won't be noticed.

Second, consider Oppel’s attempt to evaluate Perry’s claim about job creation in Texas. This strikes us as a very weak attempt at analysis:
OPPEL (10/27/11): In the ad, Mr. Perry also focuses on job creation—as opposed to unemployment—and it is easy to see why: Texas’ unemployment rate has risen over the last two years as the national rate dropped. (Different surveys are used to calculate the two measures; possible explanations for the seemingly contradictory numbers include more Texans working more than one job, or fewer self-employed people report finding work.)
Strange. Oppel wanders off into the weeds concerning the way unemployment rates are calculated. As he does, coherence flees the scene; we’re still not entirely sure what he means when he refers to “the two measures” and “the seemingly contradictory numbers.” At any rate, he never tells us what the Texas unemployment rate actually is. It has risen in the last two years, he says, even as the national rate has dropped. But how high has the Texas rate risen? How does it compare to the national rate? How does Texas compare to other states?

Times readers never get told.

A similar problem occurs when Oppel discusses the number of jobs created in Texas during Perry’s tenure. We’re puzzled by certain parts of this passage. And isn’t something missing here too?
OPPEL: According to federal data, Texas has gained over a million jobs since Mr. Perry became governor, as he says. But Mr. Perry chooses his words carefully, and there may be a reason: Early in the campaign he was criticized for suggesting he deserved credit for new jobs in Texas when economists cited other factors, like a strong oil economy and relatively mild housing problems.
Here again, Oppel seems to get lost in the weeds. He says Texas has gained over a million jobs during Perry’s tenure, just as Perry claims in the ad. But for unknown reasons, Oppel thinks Perry has “cho[sen] his words carefully” in the ad about this particular matter. Here and at the end of his piece, he wastes time musing about this impression. In the process, he fails to evaluate the rather obvious claim to expertise which Perry makes in the ad.

Perry says Texas gained a million jobs—while the nation was losing two million. It sounds like Texas has done something right on the jobs front.

Plainly, that is Perry’s suggestion. Lost in the weeds about “choosing words carefully,” Oppel fails to evaluate this implied claim. Perry says he knows a few things about creating jobs—and he cites two numbers to buttress his claim. Oppel never attempts to discuss the relevance of the second number.

This problem persists right up to the end of his piece, where Oppel offers his overall view of the ad. We find this appraisal baffling:
OPPEL: If Mr. Perry can convince voters that his policies can create jobs, it could help him in states where many people have been spent long, frustrating periods looking for work. And unlike, say, tax proposals, which voters are more efficient at determining what would be better for them, the jobs issue may be more confusing. And it may be easier for Mr. Perry to convince people of his record by using one clean number that avoids discussion of whether jobs data—or unemployment data—is the most appropriate measure, and also avoids questions about who, or what, truly deserves the credit.
We find that appraisal baffling. In our view, there’s nothing confusing or nuanced about the claim Perry makes in the ad. Will any viewer find himself puzzled by the conflict between jobs data and employment data? Will anyone doubt that Perry is saying that he deserves the credit for the Texas job growth?

Maybe some voter on Mars will be puzzled. That implied claim by Perry is the whole point of the ad.

Rather plainly, Perry seems to say that he created a lot of jobs in Texas while the rest of the nation was losing jobs. “I know something about that,” he says about job creation.

But does he know how to create new jobs? Based on the numbers he cites in his ad, is there good reason to believe him?

Oppel flounders and thrashes around. Pity the fool who buys the Times expecting to sort out such questions.

14 comments:

  1. I would add that IMHO unemployment rate is a red herring. Job growth is the better measure of economic success. Thanks to Texas's strong economy, a lot of people moved into that state. That's why the drop in unemployment rate underestimates how good Texas's economy has been.

    Would it be too cynical to suggest that the New York Times brought unemployment rate into the picture because Perry's record is less impressive by that measure? I don't think so.

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  2. For a partial explanation of the unemployment surveys the government uses, please see below:

    http://lbo-news.com/2011/02/04/radio-commentary-february-5-2010/

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  3. @David in Cal

    "I would add that IMHO unemployment rate is a red herring. Job growth is the better measure of economic success."

    One might also add that trying to decouple levels of unemployment from job growth in the abstract (who's creating the jobs?; what's the size of the economy?; what' is a "normal" rate of job growth in the region, given the population?; how many jobs must be created to sustain historical levels of unemployment ) is clearly obfuscatory. The number of jobs absent these qualifiers, is meaningless.

    "Thanks to Texas's strong economy, a lot of people moved into that state. "

    "Strong" by what measure? By the usual measures, Texas is about average or a bit worse, in an already terrible general economy. And who are all these people who "moved" to Texas? Does he mean illegal aliens?

    "Would it be too cynical to suggest that the New York Times brought unemployment rate into the picture because Perry's record is less impressive by that measure? I don't think so."

    By the same token, would it be too cynical to suggest that David in Cal wants to disregard the unemployment rates -- the true and only measure of the availability of job, relative to the population of workers -- because it doesn't suit the party line?

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  4. Well, Anonymous, when Bush's unemployment rate was dropping, NY Times economist and liberal icon Paul Krugman assured us that job creation was more significant than the unemployment rate. The following is typical of several of columns from that period:

    No More Excuses on Jobs
    By PAUL KRUGMAN
    Published: March 12, 2004
    ...The establishment survey, which asks businesses how many workers they employ, says that 2.4 million jobs have vanished in the last three years.

    ...And even the less reliable household survey paints a bleak picture of an economy in which jobs have lagged far behind population growth. The fraction of adults who say they are employed fell steeply between early 2001 and the summer of 2003, and has stagnated since then.

    But wait -- hasn't the unemployment rate fallen since last summer? Yes, but that's entirely the result of people dropping out of the labor force....
    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/12/opinion/no-more-excuses-on-jobs.html?scp=37&sq=krugman%20bush%20jobless%20recovery&st=cse

    P.S. the Household Survey may be "less reliable" in the sense that it's based on a sample. However, the main difference is that the Establishment Survey excludes several types of employment, counts a worker with two jobs twice, and includes workers below age 16. See http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/categories/11
    I think Krugman emphasized the accuracy of the establishment survey because Bush looked worse on that basis.

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  5. If David in Cal is not a right-wing troll, then he may as well be. His most recent post proves it. Either he honestly entertains these points of view and modes of analysis (useless though they be), or he advances them on behalf of a more insidious agenda. I'm beyond caring which.

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  6. @David in Cal:

    If you read your own post, you'll see that Krugman is saying something quite different -- that a *drop* in the unemployment rate doesn't necessarily mean an improving situation, due to the fact that when workers stop looking actively for jobs, they aren't counted as "unemployed".

    You, by contrast, insist on looking at the number of jobs created irrespective of the size of the market, the population, the nature of the jobs created, their source (government?), etc. And if you believe Krugman, the unemployment in Texas is likely to be **understated**.

    But of course "you" (if you are a "you", and not a "they") don't believe Krugman. You merely cited him to throw some dust. In other words, you're propagandist, not somebody in the truth. It's instructive, of course, to see the right-wing at work, but a little tiresome too, for those of us who aren't gainly employed to deceive people.

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  7. @David in Cal

    Since you admire Krugman, here's what he actually had to say about Texas job growth, as opposed to your intentional misreading of what he didn't say on another subject entirely:

    "What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is “Well, duh.” The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs — which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice — involves a fallacy of composition: every state can’t lure jobs away from every other state."

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  8. @David in Cal

    Since you admire Krugman, here's what he actually had to say about Texas job growth, as opposed to your intentional misreading of what he didn't say on another subject entirely:

    "What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is “Well, duh.” The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs — which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice — involves a fallacy of composition: every state can’t lure jobs away from every other state."

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  9. @David in Cal

    Does it ever get tiresome being a cog in the Right-Wing Borg, to never have an independent thought or a value that does not come out of John Galt's little speech? You guys would be funny if you were not so set on wrecking this country and turning the United States into a version of Paraguay on a continental scale.

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  10. Anonymous, I would classify as spin Krugman's comment that
    What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states.

    I don't know remotely as much economics as Krugman, so I can't produce facts to contradict his assertions. But, as far as I can tell, he doesn't have the facts to support his assertions. Consider these questions:

    1. How many jobs were created in Texas. Of that total, how many came from other states, how many came from abroad, and how many were newly created?

    2. How many of the firms that left another state and moved to Texas would have moved abroad or simply disappeared if a state with a good business climate weren't available?

    3. In attracting and creating jobs, how significant were Texas's tight law on tort liability and its zero state income tax?

    4. Are Texas's regulations really unconscionably weak? In what ways?

    Krugman provides no specifics and indicates no sources to answer these questions

    rickstersherpa, the meaning of "right-wing" has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Bill Clinton's budget was half the current budget. JFK engineered enormous tax cuts, especially for the wealthy (which led to a booming economy.) I'd be thrilled to go back to Clinton's government and ecstatic to go back to JFK's.

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  11. David in Cal -- Are you sure you'd be ecstatic to return to JFK's tax policy? I think that the highest income tax rate was more than 70%, and it might have been as high as 91%.

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  12. The Real AnonymousOctober 29, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    Galt in Cal says....

    "I don't know remotely as much economics as Krugman, so I can't produce facts to contradict his assertions."

    Duly noted.

    Thanks for the contribution!!

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  13. @David in Cal:

    "Krugman provides no specifics and indicates no sources to answer these questions"

    Specifics of the kind you ask for are rarely provided in op-ed opinion pieces -- that's the sort of thing you're more likely to find in Krugman's blog -- but let's take what we know about Texas.

    True, it's a low tax state. But it's also at or near the bottom on the usual quality of life measures -- the poverty rate, the number of people with health insurance, the wage level, the number of kids who finish high school, the crime rate, etc. This is Third-World America.

    Not many rational actors will be prepared to embrace these social outcomes to create [low-paying] jobs -- in order to end up with an average or below average joblessness rate.

    If Perry claimed he's turned Texas into paradise of good jobs ad admirable social outcomes, *that* would be interesting. But "creating" jobs in a state of misery, where average "folks" are far worse off than they are in other states, is hardly a model for the rest of the nation. We might just as well adopt the model of Guatelama or Nigeria, have done with it, once and for all.

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  14. Anon, I'm convinced that Texas isn't that great a place to live. In addition to the points you made, Texas has atrocious weather. Some years ago, my brother-in-law got transferred from San Francisco to San Antonio. My sister hated the place.

    But, this makes Texas's job creation even more impressive. No doubt many entrepreneurs would prefer to locate in California or many other states rather than Texas. Evidently the business climate is a whole lot better in Texas than in California.

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