In the economics world, Thursdays means initial jobless claims, and that means yet another favorable statistic that has naturally suspicious people scratching their heads. Initial claims—the number of people filing for unemployment benefits—fell to 339,000, well below the previous week's numbers, which was already below what analysts were predicting and the lowest number this report has seen in more than four years. A nice surprise for the incumbent. Was it a little too nice?
A closer look at the numbers seemed to reveal to some that one entire state (and a large one at that) didn't submit any numbers to the Department of Labor. That turned out to be false (mostly), but the initial speculation was enough to get the ball rolling on the conspiracy theories once again.
First the explanation. CNBC's Kelly Evans did some digging and figured out that all 50 states did report their jobless claims, but that one state's numbers were way off the expected tally. Either they didn't make the proper seasonal adjustment or that seasonal adjustment didn't actually happen. Later on, Business Insider's Henry Blodget got word from a source that California was the culprit, because it didn't include all of its claims when it submitted its numbers—not out of malice, but because they probably got overwhelmed and simply couldn't process them all in time for the reporting deadline. Those claims will still be counted eventually, either in a future report or in a revision to this report that will come in a few weeks. (The number crunchers are always revising reports from previous months, when new data and more time give them a chance to make the report more accurate.)
So someone didn't get their homework done on time. No big deal, right? Well, normally it wouldn't be, but these are not normal times. We're less than a month from a presidential election and there is a sizable contingent of (somewhat) sensible people convinced something fishy is going on. We already saw how they lost their minds over the unemployment survey last week. The accusations were so bad that Rep. Darrell Issa's House Oversight Committee is talking about hearings. Now here comes another number that looks suspiciously positive for the president, so once again we find some conservatives refusing to believe the numbers are legitimate.
Because while I don’t buy the skepticism, I dont share in the righteous MSM claim that the skepticism is crazy. Maybe if you are a BLS stat-geek like Burtless you just know the numbers aren’t cooked. But most people aren’t BLS stat geeks, including those who assure us they 'know' ... For the vast universe of non-BLS-geeks, there seem to be plenty of reasons for at least worrying about manipulation of the household survey, even if you still think it’s unlikely.
Apparently, it's wrong for people who know what they're talking about (economists, bureaucrats and statisticians) to tell people who don't know what they're talking about (Jack Welch and Donald Trump) that they don't know what they're talking about. As far as Kaus is concerned, it is the sane person's responsibility to convince a lunatic that they are crazy. It's not the lunatic's fault if he chooses not to believe you.
Kaus goes on to make a very lengthy argument for why you should be "worried about manipulation," while simultaneously insisting he isn't worried.
Again, I’m not saying this happened! I’m saying National Journal’s attempt to convince skeptics that it didn’t happen was wildly ineffective, because it treated them like fools. What might convince skeptics?
The correct answer is nothing. Skeptics don't want to be convinced that the official story is right. That's what makes them skeptics. Hard evidence means very little to the faithful.
It's sort of like how when Kaus cites as one his key "reasons for at least worrying about manipulation" the completely baseless statistic the 80 percent of civil servants in the Department of Labor are Democrats. (And 85 percent of all census workers.) Now, there are good reasons to believe his numbers are not correct. I'm not saying they aren't! I'm just saying that a guess by Mickey Kaus isn't that effective on me. Maybe I'm just a hopeless paranoid, too.