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April 16, 2014

Megan McArdle on Obama's New Books-Cooking Census Insurance Question: "I ’m speechless. Shocked. Stunned. Horrified. Befuddled. Aghast, appalled, thunderstruck, perplexed, baffled, bewildered and dumbfounded."

The census is changing the way they ask a question about being insured. The old way, they say, tended to overstate how many people were uninsured. (But note Obama was willing to rely on that overstated figure in making his case for the urgency of destroying the health care system.)

The new way is supposedly "more accurate" -- but will result in fewer people saying they're uninsured.

Coincidentally I'm so f***ing sure, these changes are implemented at the precise damn moment Obama wants to demonstrate a Big Impact of Obamacare.

Of course, he has cooked the books. Much of the change in the number of uninsured will come simply from the new way in which the question is asked, but he will imply or explicitly state (explicit lies are well within his wheelhouse) that the drop in uninsured is attributable to Obamacare.

Megan McArdle, to whom, as a economist/analyst, data are precious as diamonds, is shocked that Obama would decided to destroy any possibility of using census data to get an accurate analysis of the impact of Obamacare, but perhaps she shouldn't be all that shocked at all.

Indeed, she suspects as much:

But why, dear God, oh, why, would you change it in the one year in the entire history of the republic that it is most important for policy makers, researchers and voters to be able to compare the number of uninsured to those in prior years? The answers would seem to range from “total incompetence on the part of every level of this administration” to something worse.

Yes, that’s right, I said “every level.” Because guess who was involved in this decision, besides the wonks at Census?

The White House is always looking for evidence to show the benefits of the health law, which is an issue in many of this year’s midterm elections. The Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Council of Economic Advisers requested several of the new questions, and the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the new questionnaire. But the decision to make fundamental changes in the survey was driven by technical experts at the Census Bureau, and members of Congress have not focused on it or suggested political motives.

...


I find it completely and totally impossible to believe that this problem didn’t occur to anyone at Census, or in the White House. It would be like arguing that the George W. Bush administration might have inadvertently overlooked the possibility that when the U.S. invaded Iraq, there would be shooting. This is the biggest policy debate of the last 10 years, and these data are at the heart of that debate. It is implausible that everyone involved somehow failed to notice that they were making it much harder to know the effect of this law on the population it was supposed to serve. Especially because the administration seems to have had a ready excuse as soon as people reacted to the news.

Of course, the Administration's main salutatory innovations in economic and policy matters has been to change the method by which we measure the economy and impacts of specific policies.

We used to figure out a President's job creation number from, get this, subtracting jobs lost from jobs created, resulting in (whether positive or negative) net jobs created.

But Obama found that Old School Approach to not be accurate enough. He created a new category -- Jobs Saved.

And when "Jobs Saved" turned out to not be plentiful in and of themselves, he created a new category-- "Jobs Funded." He asked employers to note when even a single dollar of government stimulus money had gone to an an employee, whether or not that employee was ever in danger of being laid off. If a single dollar of money went to that employee, then the job was considered "funded" by the government.

But that still wasn't enough -- the Department of Energy created a new metric for measuring the economic impact of stimulus spending. People who politically supported boondoggle spending on, say, Solyndra, would be credited as having been "positively impacted" by the spending.

Sure, Solyndra cost the country money in exchange for no jobs, but think about all those people "positively impacted" by the spending! They felt good about spending money on a cronyist boondoggle; and you just can't put a price on making progressives' erogenous zones throb with the excitement of spending other people's money.

Is GDP not growing enough? Is Obama being weighed down by low GDP growth figures?

Not to worry-- There's An App For That (TM).

Much attention about today’s data release will focus on BEA’s new methodology for calculating GDP. This new methodology generally makes two large changes. First, it reclassifies some spending made by businesses as long-lived investment rather than current intermediate costs. This means that this reclassified spending now boosts measured GDP (which excludes intermediates costs, but does include investments).

Are too many businesses reporting that they're laying off workers at about the same time Obamacare is implemented? Don't sweat it -- just make businesses swear on their tax forms that firings were not due to Obamacare.

Consider what administration officials announcing the new exemption for medium-sized employers had to say about firms that might fire workers to get under the threshold and avoid hugely expensive new requirements of the law. Obama officials made clear in a press briefing that firms would not be allowed to lay off workers to get into the preferred class of those businesses with 50 to 99 employees. How will the feds know what employers were thinking when hiring and firing? Simple. Firms will be required to certify to the IRS – under penalty of perjury – that ObamaCare was not a motivating factor in their staffing decisions. To avoid ObamaCare costs you must swear that you are not trying to avoid ObamaCare costs. You can duck the law, but only if you promise not to say so.

Earlier in his term Obama wanted to reassure voters that he wasn't lenient on illegal immigration. And yet he was actually deporting fewer people than Bush or Clinton. How to assure them he was tough as nails on deportation, then?

Easy peasy -- change the way you calculate deportations. Just begin counting border interdictions (where you just stop someone at or near the border and send them back home) as "deportations" and suddenly you've doubled your "deportations."

Interdictions had never been before counted as "deportations." They were counted under a separate heading. So by changing the accounting method, "deportations" suddenly rise -- when in fact actual deportations have gone down. Way down.

And then, by simply changing your accounting method (without telling anyone about the change), you have gone from someone who's deporting fewer illegals to the Most Hardcore Hardass Deporter in History.

Of course, this then became a meme on the Open Borders left, with illegal immigrant advocates getting angry at Obama and calling him "The Deporter in Chief".... to which charge he now tells them, "Relax, I was just lying, fellas."

In Obama's first year in office, his administration deported 237,941 people. That number represents the traditional definition of a deportation: someone living their life in the U.S. when they encounter a law enforcement officer who has them shipped out of the country.

By last year, that number had fallen to 133,551. And of those, 71,938 had been previously convicted of at least one felony or several misdemeanors – the "criminal aliens" that the administration has targeted. That means of the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, fewer than 70,000 who have led generally peaceful lives here were deported last year.

Yes, the Obama administration says it deports 400,000 people annually, recently passing the 2 million mark throughout the president's time in office. But the majority of those cases involve people caught by Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border and processed through Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In years past, those people would have been quickly shipped back to Mexico....

The backlash started last September, when seven undocumented immigrants handcuffed themselves to the gates of the White House to call on the president to halt deportations. More groups joined in the chorus, culminating in a March speech by Janet Murguía, the president of the National Council of La Raza, the country's largest and most well-financed immigration advocacy group. In it, she called Obama "deporter in chief."


That led to a White House meeting last month, when the president voiced his frustration with leaders of several immigration advocacy groups. In his time in office, Obama has stopped the work site immigration raids so frequent under Bush and created a program that has granted protected status to more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. He has stopped the deportation of relatives of military members, is considering extending work visas to spouses of foreigners working in the country and ordered a system-wide review of deportation practices to see how to conduct them "more humanely."

When Obama speaks to the Gringos, he touts the 400,000 figure.

When he speaks to Hispanics -- at a White House meeting, presumably behind closed doors -- he tells them he's not really deporting that many people.

A different lie for every constituency.

And in each case, the changes in accounting methodology prevent the whole point of accounting -- accountability.

There is never a good baseline upon which to judge Obama's performance, because at every turn he deliberately destroys the baseline measure.

Orwell noted that whoever controls the past, controls the future.

Obama seems to be an Apt Pupil.

Primary Season: Remember when Obama claimed that he was submitting a budget that would be "balanced" in its out-years (you know, those years a convenient decade away when all the real cuts would allegedly occur)?

He was questioned on this -- how could he say the budget was "balanced" when his own charts still showed $800 billion per year deficits?

Ah, you see, you misunderstood -- they only meant the primary budget would be balanced, the primary budget defined as the budget excluding the huge outlays to maintain debt service on already-accrued borrowing.

This is like saying "Well, the budget is balanced. And when I say 'budget,' I mean the budget, excluding Social Security payments."

Why would you exclude those? What possible justification is there to treat some expenditures as somehow not worthy of being counted?

But even by Obama's new accounting on what "balanced" means -- of course it even turned out that that was a lie.


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posted by Ace at 03:53 PM

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