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December 02, 2011

Unemployment Rate Drops to 8.6%, Due To Fact Obama's Economy Is So Foul It's Driven Out Hundreds Of Thousands of Job Seekers Out of the Market Entirely

Linking Pethokoukis' "7 Reasons the Economy Is Still Terrible," Goldstein writes:

[I]t is crucial that “our” side point out the Magical Shrinking Labor Force. As Pethokoukis notes, “The participation rate fell from an already low 64.2 percent to 64.0 percent. In a strong jobs recovery, that number should be rising as more people look for work. If the the labor force participation rate were back at its January 2009 level, the U-3 rate would be 11.0 percent.

I have no argument with that. What strikes me is that this is so infrequently done.

It is not a very math-heavy exercise to explain that the unemployment rate is the percentage of people seeking work but not finding it, and if lots of people simply give up looking altogether, the unemployment rate technically falls while the actual employment rate -- actual labor participation -- falls even further.

I can imagine Obama and a Republican To Be Named Later debating these numbers. I can see Obama saying "The unemployment rate dropped from 8.9% in September to 8.6% in November, so we're making progress."

And I can see the Republican To Be Named Later saying, "We have more people out of work now that at any time in our history."

And then I see the end of the exchange. And the public being confused, because they've been given a couple of competing measures -- apparently inconsistent with each other -- and so it's just a he said/she said situation, and worse yet, about statistics.

And then I see them shrugging, because they don't know how to make sense of the competing claims.

Why not just explain it to them? Why not give them context? Because, in this case, the explanation and context settle the matter decisively -- in our favor, of course.

Imagine a Republican who came armed for bear. Imagine Obama making his claim. And then imagine the Republican saying, "Well, the first part of what he said was true. Now, let me tell you what he didn't tell you. Let me tell you what he doesn't want you to know."

This is nothing but upside. First of all, by providing the explanation, it is enlightening to the casual viewer; darkness is dispelled. Now he get it. Now it's not just two plainly-inconsistent numbers; now he can see how both are true, but how one number is obviously more misleading than the other.

I gotta think he now has a slightly more positive feeling about the guy who explained it to him, because two minutes ago he was confused and now he's armed with usable information.

I also think, as a general matter, the "Let me agree with my opponent, and concede this part of what he said is true, but let me now devastate him" is one of the most effective ways to debate. Admitting part of what your opponent says is true is very helpful towards establishing your own credibility and honesty. And then that makes the ensuing attack all the more potent.

Why don't politicians do this more often? Possibly it's because some of them are dumbasses, but I think it's largely because they are underestimating the public's ability to process information. They really want everything in terms of general themes and slogans, because they figure there are some people out there who really cannot process something as complicated as "the unemployed fraction is not as important as the employed fraction, which is itself falling."

But there are a few things they should keep in mind:

1. People don't always understand what a speaker is saying, exactly, but they nonetheless get that the speaker himself does understand it, and they can sense he's telling them them the truth.

A lot of times people judge the truth of what Speaker A says by looking at Speaker B's reaction. If Speaker B just repeats himself, without addressing Speaker A's added information, or quickly changes the subject, they get it: Point scored.

I do this all the time. I know stuff largely not in a positive way, but in a negative way -- I "know" things are true based not on a Republican saying it, but based on a his Democratic opponent being flat-footed or unconvincing in attempting to rebut it.

If I see a politician levy a charge at another politician, and the accused politician does not deny it or explain it, I assume: Point scored. That must be true, or at least partially true. If he had argument to make on this point he would have made it.

This may not be a 100% perfect rule, but I think it's 99% accurate. I'm keeping it, and I assume most other people are employing a similar rule.

2. There may be some people so innumerate they cannot understand the most basic mathematical notions. So? A lot of these people are low-functioning individuals who almost certainly are going to vote for the party that promises to take the most custody and care of them, that is to say, not us.

And so what if you lose a few of the most dunderheaded voters on a particular point? You also lose a lot of sharper voters by indulging in babytalk and sounding like an idiot yourself, by failing to make important and useful points.

3. As a general matter, independents like to think of themselves as "voting on the issues and on substance." Eh, that's not really true. Studies consistently find that independents know the least about positions than partisans on either side. But if they're going to indulge in such self-flattery, at least put on a show for them. Give them the "substance" they claim they want. Give them the numbers.

4. Any mathematical issue can be explained easily by using small numbers or more tangible terms. Chris Christie, for example, is good about finding stories that illustrate the very basic mathematical points he makes; this is not some unique skill that only he possesses.

Anyway, I'm going on and on as usual. I'm just getting so tired of Republicans leaving crucial points unstated because of either 1, a lack of homework-doing themselves, or 2, a confounding belief that the only people whose votes matter and are up for grabs are kind of stupid, and not only are they stupid, but they'll actually hold it against you if you start sounding smart for three seconds.

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posted by Ace at 12:02 PM

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