Scene in Passing: Want go-go? Remember drop-stop gulch
February 9, 2014
Mark my words, that Twain character who once lived under cover of the Clemens' clan name around here understood a thing or two about whoppers.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was the brother of Carson City's Orion Clemens, Nevada's territorial secretary, and came to the area seeking his fortune. Instead of finding it in mining, he dug tall tales out of his imagination and purveyed them to earn his keep under the pen name Mark Twain. So he could both make up and recognize BS, which we'll politely label bad science or bodacious storytelling.
"Lies, damned lies and statistics," a phrase capturing narrative and numeric nonsense disguised in plausible garb, was an observation popularized by Twain. He attributed it to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81), but it never appeared in Disraeli's work. The suspicion by many is Twain dreamed it up. This observation always amuses, and I've scribbled about it before.
The lies/statistics phrase encompasses something everyone does on occasion, either knowingly or unwittingly.
On Friday the Feds, depending on your perspective, purposefully or unwittingly did it again. They reported unemployment declined to 6.6 percent based on a household survey in which 600,000 said they found work, but a separate business survey estimated January job creation of 113,000. Say what? Suffice to say we're lost in the suburbs of Guesstimation Gap.
Columnist George Will, meanwhile, said the U.S. has added 13 million Americans since late 2007 but has 1.3 million fewer jobs, so the rate would be 11.3 percent if job participation were the same as in 2007. But why would it be? Is anything? Government's hoo-ha, as well as Will's, are mindful of an insight from H.L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore.
"It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place," said the columnist and author.
The federal surveys and Will analysis are silly. Oldsters retire, sort of; some jobless folks start small businesses; the neverending underground economy forges on; bad weather intervenes; emerging markets swoon; etc.
In Carson City, Mayor Robert Crowell last week said about 2,500 prospective wage earners locally aren't employed. Good on ya, mayor. That's pertinent. He also cited the declining jobless rate here as 9.3 percent, but it's the raw number that counts. A month is but a blurry, meaningless snapshot.
National job gains for 47 months also are pertinent. It's slow growth, but a return to economic go-go days would invite a later plunge into a drop-and-stop gulch. Mark my words.