Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Talking points

A couple of completely meaningless events happened in the past couple of weeks, both of them courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite being completely meaningless, they are very meaningful, because they force the Romneybot to produce different text outputs.

Last week (IIRC, doesn't matter exactly) the BLS did its routine revision of quarterly employment numbers and concluded that more people are employed today than were employed when Obama took office. Again, this is meaningless. The job market was plummeting like a meteorite when Obama took office. It stabilized after a couple of years and began a slow recovery. I'm not going to argue here about the effect of federal policy on this or who did what to make federal policy what it has been -- that's beside the point. Whatever you may think about that, at some point the number of employed people was going to exceed the number on January 20, 2008.

Today, the BLS announced that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8%. Again, I won't go into how the unemployment rate is calculated, what it really means, or who or what is or is not responsible for the number now being below 8%.

The point is, Romneybot has been outputting the message that there are fewer Americans working today than when Obama took office. Again, a completely meaningless fact but it registers in people's frontal cortices as a failure on the part of Obama. Romneybot can no longer output that text. Similarly, the bot has been outputting that unemployment has been above 8% the whole time Obama has been in office. That output also ceases. Is there some reason why the difference between 8.1 and 7.8 is greater than the difference between, say, 8.5 and 8.2? Okay, it is actually proportionally more, but that's not what people hear -- it's the first digit  that matters. The same reason stuff costs 99 cents, or $99.98. That's a lot cheaper than $1.01, or $100.27.

So while Eric Fehrnstrom figures out how to re-write the stump speech, we should all contemplate the absurdities of our minds. Yes, it's good news for Obama, whether or not it should be and whether or not it means you personally have a job yet. But as I always say, history turns on the arbitrary and the illusory.


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