Take two

Posted: Aug 30, 2004 12:00 AM

 A sequel is seldom as good as the original. Still, reader e-mail alerts me that it?s already time for a sequel to a couple of recent columns.

 On the eve of the Athens Olympic games, I jokingly outlined a plan to film a documentary based on a little known corporate titan of the ancient world named Dick Cheneyopolus. The column was intended to reveal the ?evils? of corporations (through the use of fictional facts) and expose a conspiracy that?s been developing unnoticed right under our noses for millennia. After all, that seems to be the way to make a successful documentary these days.

 But a couple of readers called my research into question. ?I visited the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia in the NW Peloponnesus in 1968. The games were never held in Athens,? one noted. ?They were held in Olympia, Greece, hence the name:  Olympics,  Not Athens.  Pleeeeez,? pointed out another.

 I apologize for the errors, and promise to be more historically accurate when I satirically create history in the future.

 Another reader took me to task for this observation: ?In the real world, journalists don?t cheer. Not even if they?re delivering good news, like that the nation created 32,000 new jobs last month and the unemployment rate dropped from 5.6 to 5.5 percent -- oh, wait, bad example. For some reason, that was bad news.?

A Mr. Drew Chappie wondered, ?Are you actually that ignorant to believe that 32,000 new jobs created this July was good news, or did you just realize that the majority of your high-school graduate readers will see a number with zeros tailing it and think, ?Ooohh, that?s a lot!??
Well, I?m not especially ignorant.

 First of all, let?s stipulate it?s a good thing when our economy generates jobs. We can all agree on that. So the argument is over how many did we generate. Was it enough?

 The Heritage Foundation has done plenty of research on this, and good news abounds. For example, the July unemployment rate of 5.5 percent is far better than the 6.3 percent reported last July. And it even beats the average of 5.8 percent unemployment in the go-go 1990s. Plus, unemployment is dropping as our population is growing. We?ve now got more Americans working than ever before. More good news.

 Also, there seems to be a big problem with the payroll survey used to generate the jobs data. That problem should be obvious from the numbers the Labor Department put out there. If in fact we generated ?only? 32,000 jobs, how did the unemployment rate drop .1 percent? There are 139.7 million people in the workforce. To bring the unemployment rate down by .1 percent, we?d need to create 139,700 jobs, not 32,000. So how did that happen? I?ve yet to hear any journalist ask that question.

 At the same time, the number of long-term unemployed dropped in July by 100,000. Now, where did these people go? The establishment answer seems to be ?well, they stopped looking for work.? Did they?

Imagine yourself out of a job. Would you ever ?stop looking for work?? Of course not. Where would you live? What would you eat? The very idea of ?discouraged workers? is silly. But again, journalists seem immune to this idiocy, or they?d be asking where these unemployed folks went.

 Heritage has a possible answer to where the unemployed have gone: back to work. As measured by the government?s household survey, employment rose by 629,000 over the month of July. Good news indeed. However, to get there, you have to look behind the government?s widely touted numbers and determine where they came from and why. Few journalists seem interested in doing that.

 But one well-known person seems to have. Last month, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan hinted to lawmakers that the economy is steadily improving. The Fed later showed its confidence by raising interest rates. That?s bad news for borrowers, but says something good about the overall economy. After all, the Fed wouldn?t raise rates unless it thought the economy was going to generate plenty of jobs in the coming months. 

 Of course, all predictions are subject to change. I?ve accused journalists of ignoring good economic news. But maybe that?s going to change. Maybe we?re about to see a rash of front-page stories about the 1.81 million jobs the payroll survey shows our economy has created since March 2001.

 If that happens, watch this space for a sequel to the sequel. But don?t bother lining up for tickets to that one quite yet.