…than to open it and remove all doubt.

Invictus here.  I usually know exactly where I’m going when I sit down to write a post — some numbers tell me a story that I think would be interesting to be share.

Not so this time.

I’ve wondered often and aloud what it takes these days for an individual to be discredited.  The answer seems to be that it is simply not possible.  Being wrong — about anything and everything — no longer carries any consequences whatsoever.  On many levels, it’s quite remarkable.  As it relates to economics, stories about hyperinflation, sky-high interest rates, rampant government spending, expansionary austerity, an economic plan that will get the unemployment rate to 2.8%, etc., etc., have been making (or made) the rounds for the past few years.  Yet the purveyors of these fictions lose no credibility and somehow maintain their status as experts, continuing to appear on business television shows and on op-ed pages nationwide. (Post-market on Friday, December 23, Bloomberg Television trotted out Harry “Roaring 2000′s” Dent, for example.  How’d that call work out?)  Paul Krugman has railed about all this countless times, most recently here, and he has a very valid point.

But Rush Limbaugh has now taken it all to a new level by demonstrating a mind-numbing cluelessness about one of the most fundamental of our employment statistics, the unemployment rate.  Mr. Limbaugh did not just twist, distort, or massage statistics (though he most certainly did do those things), he displayed an abject ignorance of what the BLS measures and how it is measured.

In an error-laden, wince-inducing screed that was somewhat painful to read, Rush explains to his Dittoheads that the government manipulates its economic releases to make them administration-friendly.  (Of course, that being the case, he does not tell us why, three years into the current administration, the unemployment rate is not a second-term-insuring 5 percent instead of 8.6, but never mind that.)

In the hope of maintaining my sanity, I’ll confine myself to the most egregious assertion in Rush’s comedy of errors (emphasis mine):

What was the number of jobs created [in November]?  It’s 120,000 jobs.  It’s 120, 126,000, whatever. That’s in the ballpark.  That number of jobs created can lower unemployment rate 0.4%, almost one half of a percent? Creating 120,000 new jobs can do that?  [...]

A mere 126,000 job increase drops unemployment rate almost one half of a percentage point.

If you’re thinking, “Hey, Invictus, the payroll number comes from the Establishment Survey and the Unemployment Rate from the Household Survey,” congratulations, you know more about how BLS does its job than Rush Limbaugh.  Try as I might to think of something funny to say about this, words escape me.  What is there to say?  Millions (tens of millions?) of people listen to this man, and in all likelihood believe what he said, despite the fact that his claim is wholly, totally without any merit whatsoever because he conflated the two surveys to simply fabricate a narrative — the narrative being that a modest rise in payrolls could cause an outsize decline in the unemployment rate. So, the question then becomes, did he know what he was doing and just not care, or did he simply opine ignorantly on a topic about which he clearly knows nothing?  Honestly, as jaded as I have become, this one threw even me for a bit of a loop.

For those who are going to accuse me of picking on Rush, I’ll simply say this:  Find me other examples of such blatant intellectually dishonesty and I’ll criticize those, too.

If there are any Rush defenders in the audience, please drop it in comments — I’m tired of the market volatility and could use both a break and a laugh.

Category: Current Affairs, Data Analysis, Economy, Employment, Media, Politics, Think Tank

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

15 Responses to “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool…”

  1. MayorQuimby says:

    As nonsensical as Rush is, those on CNBC are no better. Heck the BLS model itself is a joke.

    How often do we hear about U-6 or labor participation or declining purchasing power or real inflation???

    Come on now. It’s all a kaleidoscope of snake oil presentations designed to distract us as our collective pockets are picked.

  2. Frilton Miedman says:

    Rush Limbaugh, supermarket tabloid for those that believe they are the “rugged individual” on the path to wealth.

    I love it when he dangles the extreme amount of taxes the wealthy pay as a percentage of overall taxes, yet completely obscures the extreme percentage of actual income the very same group accounts for.

    I personally see him as he is – a fat, greedy, selfish slob, nothing more.

  3. Invictus,

    I hesitate to comment on a post about Rush (I’m not a fan) but he has previously made the point that like Michael Moore he is first and foremost in the entertainment business. Truth comes second, third, or somewhere down the priority list.

    My $0.02: ignore Rush. You, Barry and TBP team have bigger fish to fry.

    P.S. Agree with Mayor Quimby about U-6 getting very little press, and holding a somewhat skeptical eye towards statistics (not just the government’s) is probably healthy.

  4. James says:

    The saddest part is how Rush unintentionally makes the point about how much of a “jobless recovery” this is. We’ve had a few drops of -0.4 or more in the past months (Nov 2010, Jan 2011 and Dec 2011) all accompanied by anemic job growth (93K, 68K, and 120K respectively). -0.4 is a pretty big jump in recent history at least… but most of it is probably more people slipping out of the work force. Confronted with some odd notions of numerical voodoo or a continuing deterioration in the participation rate, I’ll go with the data.

  5. buzzer87 says:

    Hang in there, The world has always had a bias towards believing there is such a thing as singular truth. But all is not lost, never stop trying.

  6. scharfy says:

    Not a Rush fanboy, but Its not a totally ridiculous question. Typically there is some correlation between the household and payroll numbers.

    The economy added 120,000 new jobs (+140 private sector, -20 government) and the rate drops from 9% to 8.6%.

    As i understand it, most of this is due to a surprise decline in the November labor force participation rate (i.e. 315,000 people dropped out of the work force)

    That would be the answer, no?

    Also a much easier attack on Obama than the BLS conspiracy theories…

  7. Futuredome says:

    It is like people still can’t understand why US debtholders love US debt, unlike the late 60′s through the mid-90′s when they hated it.

  8. Transor Z says:

    If you want a laugh, pick up a copy of Al Franken’s book “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.”

  9. bonzo says:

    Limbaugh and the other Fox pundits are not in the business of purveying truth. They are entertainers, and they do a damn fine job of pleasing their audience.

    The people who need to be held to account, but aren’t being held to account, are the dittoheads who listen to Limbaugh and are the reason Limbaugh is so well-compensated. They’ve voted for policies that have brought bad times to this country, and they’ve mostly not been punished. I’m talking about the conservative social security crowd with all their savings in CDs and perhaps a house with the mortgage paid off. They haven’t suffered much from the recession, only from less interest on their CDs. They won’t sell their house while they are alive, so who cares if the market value has plummeted? That just lowers property taxes. They didn’t have to fight Bush’s wars themselves, and they won’t have to pay for them in the future.

  10. Union Agitator says:

    The Greek work for people who were politically ignorant, was Idiot. So I waste no time on a Rush fan, for I know he is an Idiot.

  11. keep_it_real says:

    Barry
    You should start a “wall ” of those that should be discredited based on their pass statements. A picture with a list of their ‘wild’ claims would be great.
    It seems we are in an age of “controlling the narrative” and mirroring back to people what they want to hear is very effective in the short term. I am not sure a democracy can survive long term this way but we are on a path to find out.

  12. Moss says:

    I think you hit the nail on the heard when you said:

    ‘ Millions (tens of millions?) of people listen to this man, and in all likelihood believe what he said, despite the fact that his claim is wholly, totally without any merit whatsoever……’

    That is the bigger problem and can be said about many of his diatribes. He is a poison to the character of this country. We need honest debate and respectful discourse to solve the problems of this country. Limbaugh does neither and the advertisers who fund his venom should all be boycotted.

  13. JimmyDean says:

    We don’t need debtors prison in this country, but idiot prison would be great. Traffic would move a lot faster. If we had idiot prison, Rush, of course, would be doing life.

  14. [...] Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool… | The Big Picture [...]

  15. wannabe says:

    The reason I come here to the think tank is to try to escape from the culture wars bullshit where everything starts and ends with a given POV. Thanks for bringing that here, ’cause I’m real sure everyone here cares what Rush said yesterday and worries about people taking it too seriously.