A few Q&As and a great book review:
Q: Re moving seasonality in that BLS series: will the monthly BLS revisions “fix” this?
A: I don’t think so. The BLS payroll employment data are revised for two months after the first print, and they do rerun the seasonals, but they only adjust the past few months. Every year, they do a major revision of the past five years (coming next month!), but that probably won’t fix this either, given that it’s a relatively new pattern that their method hasn’t picked up yet.
Q: What about the BLS birth/death model? A while ago, people were worrying about its accuracy—has that been resolved?
A: I don’t think that was ever a big issue. In order to make better estimates of employment given their fixed sample of firms, the Bureau must make assumptions about firms that are born and die but are not in their sampling frame. Folks raised reasonable concerns that the model doesn’t capture cyclical turning points (when presumably fewer firms are born and more die), but I don’t think there’s much evidence to support this—i.e., those annual revisions based on updating the sample to include actual births and deaths never seem to show this to be a notable problem, at least not to my knowledge.
I found this Michael Kinsley book review of Tom Frank’s new book to be a great read. Frank’s book is surely worth a read too, but Kinsley makes two points worthy of reflection.
First, apparently Frank is pretty tough on the President. “[Obama] ran like a populist, Frank believes, but he has governed like a plutocrat, or at least a friend of plutocrats.”
It’s not an uncommon view, and there are certainly times I wanted the administration to push harder in a more progressive direction, including when I was on the team. But I think Kinsley pretty much nails it here:
It seems to me that a Democratic president who gets us health care reform and tough new financial protection for consumers, who guides the economy through its roughest period in 80 years with moderate success (who could do better?), who ends our long war in Iraq and avenges the worst insult to our sovereignty since Pearl Harbor (as his Republican predecessor manifestly failed to do, despite a lot of noise and promises); a president who faced an opposition of really spectacular intransigence and downright meanness; a president who has the self-knowledge and wisdom about Washington to write the passage quoted above [see review for this reference], and the courage to publish it: that president deserves a bit more credit from the left than Frank is willing to give him.
One can anticipate the pushback: the stimulus should have been larger, fin reg isn’t tough enough, ACA isn’t a single payer system. And there’s of course something to these critiques. But Kinsley’s assessment strikes me as correct and fair, especially when you consider the part about the intransigent opposition.
Kinsley’s second point questions whether the Republicans that Frank is inveighing against have really been all that effective:
Conservatives have dominated the debate, and usually the government, for three decades now, yet they haven’t managed to abolish a single cabinet department or eliminate a single major entitlement program. Nothing big has been “privatized.” Somehow or other, against all expectations and despite a conservative Supreme Court, abortion rights and affirmative action have been preserved. Gay rights are advancing so fast that the Republican Party itself is probably ahead of where Democrats were a generation ago. The Constitution has not been amended to require a balanced budget or forbid flag-burning.
Yeah, but a key theme of Frank’s—one Kinsley acknowledges as correct—is that this stuff is just key-dangling for the real agenda: stack the economic deck to promote massive upward redistribution of resources. And here, conservatives have been remarkably successful. Not just in the upward redistribution, but more importantly (because it unceasingly promotes the redistribution) in the intellectual and economic debate that has far too many people convinced that if we just make the wealthy even wealthier, we’ll all be better off.