Apr 12, 2004
New Yorker on Abuse of Statistics
The New Yorker knocks down the “ok, but everybody lies” defense:
Statistical expediency and fiscal obfuscation have become hallmarks of this White House. In the past three years, the Bush Administration has had the Bureau of Labor Statistics stop reporting mass layoffs. It shortened the traditional span of budget projections from ten years to five, which allowed it to hide the long-term costs of its tax cuts. It commissioned a report on the aging of the baby boomers, then quashed it because it projected deficits as far as the eye could see. The Administration declined to offer cost estimates or to budget money for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A recent report from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers included an unaccountably optimistic job-growth forecast, evidently guided by the Administration’s desire to claim that it will have created jobs. And a few weeks ago the Treasury Department put civil servants to work—at Tom DeLay’s request—evaluating a tax proposal identical to John Kerry’s, then issued a press release saying that the proposal would raise taxes on “hardworking individuals.” (Lazy individuals breathed a sigh of relief.)
Politics as usual? Not really. Hard as it may be to believe, in economic matters the executive branch has traditionally succeeded at hewing to the ideals of objectivity and nonpartisanship. Under Republicans and Democrats, in good times and bad, the Commerce Department and the Labor Department have produced reliable numbers, even when those numbers have made sitting Presidents look worse.
Indeed. This is just one of those examples where this election will set a precedent. If the GOP manages to retain control, it will mean that they have officially gotten away with this kind of abuse, and that they should expect no penalty for it in the future. Net result: nobody can trust what any civil servant says again if it has political implications for the politicians for whom they work. On the other hand, a Democratic sweep will send a strong message that these practices are not worthwhile, and engaging in them will get you nothing but a ticket home. Something to keep in mind.