Last Friday, Ben Casselman was savage, A Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Gets It Very, Very Wrong on Seasonal Adjustment. It is in reference to an article Daniel Quinn Mills wrote, Seasonally Adjusted Jobs Numbers Offer Cold Comfort. The “cold” in the title seems to be a sort of joke because Mills seems to think that seasonal adjustments to the jobs report is mostly about the weather. Mills wants you know, “The US economy lost more than 2.7 million jobs between the middle of December and the middle of January.” If he weren’t allowed to write this kind of thing in The Wall Street Journal, I’m sure that he would be shouting it in Washington Square Park.
As you no doubt know, that loss of 2.7 million jobs in January is what happens every year. It is the economy winding down from the Christmas rush. It takes a Harvard Business School professor to demonstrated this astounding level of ignorance. As Casselman discussed in some length, the point of seasonal adjustments is to allow us to know what is happening with the economy. We don’t need the Bureau of Labor Statistics to tell us that come January, all those temporary hires in November will be gone. What’s more, Mills didn’t write his little OpEd in December complaining that the jobs report didn’t reflect the millions of new hires.
And that’s the point. Mills wouldn’t have written this article — and The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t have published this article — if a Republican were in the White House. We saw the same thing with the unemployment rate when Obama came into office. The official unemployment rate was 8.2% in February 2009. But suddenly, conservatives everywhere were screaming about how the “true” unemployment rate was far higher: 15%! Well, in a sense, they were right. The standard number is U-3 and it doesn’t reflect the true level of suffering in the economy. The number they were pushing was U-6, which includes discouraged and involuntary part-time workers.
But the issue is consistency. (To be fair, I’ve seen liberals do the same thing, but it isn’t nearly as common.) While Bush was in office, the U-3 number was just fine. But once Obama was in office, the U-6 number was suddenly used. Similarly, the conservatives who couldn’t care less about the budget deficit found God once Obama was in office. Or to take the most extreme case, I’ve heard conservatives claim that they don’t, in fact, know that Obama was born in the United States. Fair enough. Neither do I. But why is it that the issue only came up when Obama was president? Admittedly, that’s not because he’s a Democrat; it’s because he’s an African American and a Democrat.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page is in the business of apologetics. It will turn on a dime when the party in power changes. It is embarrassing. And even more, it is greatly concerning that someone from Harvard Business School would write an article that shows such complete lack of understanding of economic data. Nothing will change, however. It is very likely that Mills is so insulated that he won’t ever hear about how foolish he looks. This is what has allowed the right wing of this country to lose touch with reality. Everything is definitional: if a Republican does it, it’s good; if a Democrat does it, it’s bad.