Posts filed under “Wages & Income”
Yesterday, I referenced Matt Trivisonno’s chart on federal withholding taxes in order to defenestrate some wildly inaccurate research from TrimTabs. I don’t know what the specific methodology employed by TrimTabs
actually was, but simply calling 4.1% tax receipt increase proof that the recession is now over, in light of the overall data series, is not only wildly poor math, its awful analysis.
Let’s revisit the issue of federal withholding data, only this time considering a different time frame: If we look at the quarterly data, instead of the shorter term charts, we see something interesting: Quarter-over-Quarter, withholdings are now down 0.09% – the first negative quarterly number since 4Q03.
Note how comparable this first quarterly drop in years is to the first recessionary quarter in 2001.
Chart courtesy of Matt Trivisonno
Here’s the odd thing about this: I went from trashing a horrific quote by Biderman (Blaming the Retail Investor) to praising his intellectual flexibility (Consumer Spendables Indicator) to critiquing his firms flawed analysis (TrimTabs: Its a Recession, and Its Already Over (Wrong)).
I don’t know what the significance of this is, but I thought it was worth pointing out . . .
“The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.”
One of the things that really perturbs me are disingenuous, intellectually indefensible commentary consisting of willfully misleading tripe. Up until recently, that territory has been owned by the WSJ OPED pages. This past weekend, the NYT was seen elbowing its way into the same space.
I call this approach to economic analysis Hackonomics.
An OpEd in the Sunday Times is classic Hackonomics. Unfortunately, it takes little craft to slip junk past the editors at the Times OpEd section. Impressive-looking academic or government credentials seems to be all that is required. (Its a shame they don’t have, say, a professor from the Princeton Economics department on staff).
Perhaps there is a fear of looking silly or economically ignorant, rather than asking anyone else about any of these “analyses.” What we get instead are pieces like You Are What You Spend. The authors are Michael Cox, and Richard Alm, chief economist and senior economics writer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. As my British colleagues would delightfully articulate, “their work is shite.”
To wit: These two gentlemen press forward the idea that the proper manner to review economic inequality should involve looking not at income differentials. Rather, this Fed duo favors a more direct measure of economic status: household consumption. They claim “the gap between rich and poor is far less than most assume, and that the abstract,
income-based way in which we measure the so-called poverty rate no longer applies to our society.”
Their analysis is so problematic and their theory so full of holes, that, if time permitted, we could identify errors in nearly every paragraph. That sort of critique is best reserved for serious intellectual analysis of major importance. For Hackonomics, we will simply identify 3 major flaws, and then get on to more pressing and important work.
Let’s take a closer look at their arguments:
1. Income Disparity: Abstract? There is nothing “abstract” about income-based measures of poverty or wealth inequality. Merely calling income comparisons “abstract” does not make it so, nor does it make their position any less absurd. Instead, it reads as a
transparent attempt by the authors to avoid any income discussion.
Why not discuss income? Perhaps the data is the reason: The share of national income of the wealthiest 1% rose from 14.6% five years ago (2003) to 17.4% in 2005 (Emmanuel Saez, University of California-Berkeley). And since 2005, the wealth disparity has grown even further.
Indeed, as several commentators have already pointed out, these same authors previously tried to make an income based argument that “the gap between rich and poor is far less than most assume” – and crashed and burned.
Next attempt, please.