Should Mitt Hire Jay Leno and Pat Caddell?
There's an old saying that if you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything. Proving the point, the Obama administration has put national employment statistics on the Procrustean table, and the poor numbers remarkably now "confess" to an improving jobs situation with an 8.1% unemployment rate -- even as fewer and fewer Americans are actually working each day. Obviously, if fewer folks are working, the jobs stats can improve only if the calculus is severely flawed. And it is. (More on this later.)
This obvious data corruption renders the employment metric useless for its stated purpose, of course, which is to provide a realistic snapshot of the health of the economy. It is now merely a tool of political expedience. If Americans had even a rough understanding of the true employment situation, Obama and liberal economics would be guaranteed a generational defeat this November. This is Team Romney's opportunity, and our future depends on them taking advantage.
Mystifyingly, however, Mitt and his campaign are actually collaborators in this peculiar fiction, repeating the line in their ads and campaign speeches that headline unemployment (U3) "remains over 8 per cent." And of course, U3 is over 8 per cent. In fact, U3 is a shocking 11 percent-plus according to numerous serious students of the history of unemployment. And the concept that explains why it is really 11 and not 8 is relatively simple to understand -- so simple that even a liberal comedian and his audience can do it.
In fact, last week on Leno, they did.
And yet, Team Romney is still loath to mention the real U3 rate. I suppose it's an interesting commentary on the insulated nature of political consultants that Jay Leno thinks more highly of his liberal audiences' ability to see through the preposterous 8.1 figure than Romney's media sorcerers think of everyone else's ability to do the same. Getting two enlightened responses from his audience last week, Leno said the following during his opening monologue:
Well, according to the Labor Department, unemployment fell from 8.3 to 8.1 percent last month. But that was because only, that's because, rather, 368,000 Americans gave up looking for work. (NERVOUS AUDIENCE LAUGHTER)
And today, President Obama said that's a step in the right direction, and he is encouraging more Americans to give up looking for work so the numbers will come down a little bit. (ROBUST AUDIENCE LAUGHTER).
Let me translate: Leno and his audience get it. Leno was accurately mocking our boy president and the bizarre machinations used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to push our official unemployment rate down to 8.1%. And his audience was tracking. They understand not only who put the BS in the BLS, but how they did it.
And why shouldn't they? The explanatory concept is almost Occupy Wall Street easy. This is not really a matter of the confusing seasonal adjustment ruses -- nor is it even related to the somewhat confusing "UN and UNDER employment" rate, known as U6. No, this is simply a matter of "shrinkage in workforce participation." So how technical is "workforce participation"? Not very. What Leno used as his first punch line -- "because, rather, 368 thousand Americans gave up looking for work" -- more or less defines the concept. I think the technical term is that more Americans are "sitting on their butts."
Yet this notion is now deemed too risky by Romney's wizards. They must figure this is too confusing of a concept for the campaign to even mention it.
So how ill-advised is this strategy? Extraordinarily so. Pat Caddell, who as a Jimmy Carter adviser in 1980 knows a thing or two about trying to re-elect a failed president, put this particular aspect in perspective last week. "This is, I've said all along, Romney's election to lose and by God he's losing," said Caddell. "I swear to God...this is the worst campaign in my lifetime. Hundreds of millions of dollars, they're still not on the air explaining to people that with the labor participation rate, if it was the same as he came into office the unemployment would be 11.2%."
What Caddell is saying is that if we kept score for Obama the way we kept it for Bush, the rate would be 11.2%. Under Bush, the participation rate of adults was 67.5%. Now it's only 63.5%. That's a four-percent grading curve for Obama in effect. Without getting too deep into the weeds here, what it means is that a full 4% of the would-be work force is simply vaporized out of the math equation for all intents and purposes -- and for Obama's benefit.
But that 4% reduction is not good news for those who care about reality. That 4% is still here, and its members are still eating and still living somewhere and still talking on cell phones. We are paying for most of that.
And with due respect to Romney and his advisers, I maintain that it is not too technical to explain. Remember, the explanation is a Leno punchline, for crying out loud! James Pethokoukis of The American Enterprise Institute has real U3 at about the same rate as Caddell, and the website Zero Hedge has it at 11.7%. The point is this: Obama cannot possibly be re-elected if Team Romney will but tell the simple 11-percent story. And yet, they won't.
One can only guess that in the groupthink world of the consultant bubble, they have taken the path of least resistance. Conventional wisdom says that no one gets re-elected at over 8 percent, so let's just leave it at that. Easy, shallow, infantile calculus like that is what passes for political genius these days in the strategist class. That's their story, and they are sticking to it.
But betting the farm on these crazy eights -- as in the 8% figure -- will backfire.
Obama and his BLS will manage to get the official U3 rate down below 8 percent. You know they will. If they can lose a quarter-million jobs and still drop 0.2 in a month, getting below 8 next month will be a piece of cake. Rush Limbaugh has been predicting this for many months. Why is this so hard for the consultant class?
Moreover, why is this so hard for the man who would be CEO of the United States? Why won't Mitt lead on this issue? He showed a great anti-groupthink daring streak with the pick of Paul Ryan. He has shown even more refreshing resolve by refusing to back down on his correct "47%" comment captured on video. Compared to those strokes, explaining this should be easy.
An effective leader must set the tone for his team. Perhaps Mitt should fire some of his Boston wunderkinds. They are not up to the job. Hell, hire Jay Leno and Pat Caddell. At least they understand basic unemployment math.