More Dumb Economic Conspiracy Nonsense

Friday’s jobs numbers were big, and the revisions below the surface were huge. Yet even before the release, the birther/vaxxer/flat-earther crowd had warned us about phony numbers. As public policy, this kind conspiracy thinking can cause the deaths of infants and the elderly. At least in markets, it merely loses you money.

In December, I wrote:

Today’s column is about stupidity. Perhaps that’s overstating it; to be more precise, it is about the conspiracy-theorist combination of bias, innumeracy and laziness, with a pinch of arrogance thrown in for good measure.

I am talking about the manifold ways various economic reports get misinterpreted, sometimes in a willful and ignorant manner.

That column discussed some of the sillier theories from within the darker corners of the Internet. Admittedly, these weren’t from influential people or important media outlets; it was the usual collection of oddballs in tinfoil hats.

So I am somewhat amazed that in recent days we are seeing similar idiocy from prominent people with powerful jobs who should know better. Whether it is the moon landing being faked, the dangers of vaccines, or the current economic recovery, these folks have discovered that the official story is nonsense. What makes these grand conspiracy theories so amusing — whether it is the moon landing, the dangers of vaccines, or the current economic recovery — is these people’s  naïve belief that they have discovered some great truth. (Actually, that it is news to anyone that the government lies to us about war or NSA invasions of privacy or so many other things about is the true surprise.)

Today, I want to discuss not the unwashed masses but chief executive officers and other business leaders. (I give former General Electric CEO Jack Welch a pass because his nonsensical ramblings are so familiar as to be background noise.)

Perhaps the most-discussed recent conspiracy theory comes fromGallup CEO Jim Clifton . . .

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  1. DeDude commented on Feb 9

    When people’s narratives are contradicted by facts they can either revise their narratives or revise the facts. Problem for those who chose the later is that the facts will sooner or later come back and kick you in the bud.

    • willid3 commented on Feb 9

      well for some , they ignore those facts

  2. rd commented on Feb 9

    The data problem is very simple and very clear. Obama is still President of the United States. Therefore, it is not possible for the United States to have an economy that is showing significant improvement. In particular, robust growth of private sector jobs is impossible. If the data show significant improvement, then it is obvious that the data are erroneous.

    • Futuredome commented on Feb 9

      From a right-hegelian side of it, but it goes far beyond that. You have capitalism is doomed to inflation is everywhere to gdp is undercalculated(a very underrepresented group fwiw).

      There will still be economic “conspiracy” theories because there are agents that control “conspiracy”.

    • Leeskyblue commented on Feb 10

      No, the point is that Obama serves very destructive policies that render meaningless the possible merits of one or two items on his agenda.
      Why listen to monotonous Republican hirelings? Why listen to monotonous Democrats who believe Obama can do no wrong?
      Why listen to you who replaces argument with bullying sarcasm?

  3. VennData commented on Feb 9

    I saw this Goofball Clifton that the Gallup board put in charge to steward their capital on CNBC and was laughing at him.

    Clifton even calls it “The Big Lie”

    Hey Gallup Board of directors? Where did you dig this guy up form? The “Alien’s Built the Pyramids” used paperback bin?


    • intlacct commented on Feb 9

      The use of ‘Big Lie’ in the rhetoric used by Mr. Clifton is cringe-worthy.

      The data problem is that there is an election upcoming and Mr. Obama continues to be unapologetically Democrat and African-American.

  4. MarkKlose commented on Feb 9

    Not only is this not covered up, but several of the regional Fed presidents as well as Chair Yellen have spoken at length about those leaving the workforce (beyond demographic reasons). The monetary hawks all screamed when they didn’t tighten as the rate dropped below 6% and they explained this issue in detail. Even a slight understanding of the Household Survey makes Clifton’s statements absurd and shows him to be a foolish ignoramus. I wonder is he has ever even looked at the BLS website.

  5. ottnott commented on Feb 9

    I made the mistake of reading the comments to the Bloomberg online article. Let’s just say that self-recognition is not a trait found in those who suffer from “the conspiracy-theorist combination of bias, innumeracy and laziness, with a pinch of arrogance thrown in for good measure”.

    I especially liked the commenter who read the piece and somehow concluded: “Im not sure that Barry Ritholtz understands the basics of employment data”.

    Most of the doofus comments latched onto the notion that the point of the piece was to tell us that everything is rosy in the economy, not to tell us that Clifton is spreading stupidity by pretending that a well-publicized and long-standing BLS definition of unemployment is something that “none of them [the media, Wall Street, and the White House] will tell you.

  6. slowkarma commented on Feb 9

    I think it’s useful to differentiate between stupid, crazy and ignorant, which Barry’s article doesn’t do.

    Many of the anti-vaxxers (crazy) are anything but flat-earthers (stupid/crazy) or birthers (stupid), in that they tend to be natural food/natural-living freaks, who also tend to be quite liberal: thus, the clusters of anti-vaxxers in places like Marin County. If you really feel the need to jam them all into a group for some ideological reason, jam them into this one: the irrelevant.

    And I would make a sharp distinction between the crazy and the stupid, on one hand, and the simply ignorant, on the other, especially when it comes to finance and economics. I include myself among the ignorant, and here is what I’m most ignorant of: what is the long-term (ten or fifteen year) effect of the Fed printing trillions dollars? I would really like to know. I recognize that inflation is currently low, that jobs seem to be coming back, and so on, but in my lifetime, I’ve lived through the original gas shock, the post-Vietnam inflation, the boom of the 90s, the housing disaster, and so on, and ten years no longer seems like “forever” to me. In fact, it seems like it’s just around the corner. So what is the effect of the Fed action, which appears to be (am I wrong?) one of the largest financial maneuvers on record, even larger than the Vietnam debt. It seems unlikely to be “nothing.” If it’s “something,” what will it be? I really don’t care about the anti-vaxxers, the flat-earthers, the the birthers, the whole tinfoil-hat crowd, because they’re irrelevant. Are concerns about the Fed irrelevant? I’d be happy to hear that, from an authoritative source. I don’t believe I will. I believe the most honest opinion about the effect of the massive QE, if we were able to get it from the best economists and thinkers, would be “I have no fuckin’ idea.”

    • Thomas K commented on Feb 10

      The anti-Vaxxers are a weird combination of far left and far right loons. Someone else called them “Health Nuts & Wing Nuts”

      The far right are the Libertarian anti-gummint types, the far Left are the crunchy granola hippies

    • DeDude commented on Feb 10

      A trillion dollar per year for a few years sound like a lot until you realize that our economy produce 15 trillion dollar of GDP every single year. Its all about proportions. The errors of those who wrongly predicted inflation was that their simple narrative was to simplistic. The direct correlation between printing more money and having more inflation, is build on the assumption that monetary velocity is constant. If velocity is falling then you can print truckloads of money and still barely hold deflation at bay. To fear that the Fed would not react if velocity increase would be rather ignorant – they have always been reacting to early not to late.

    • RW commented on Feb 10

      When people “have no fuckin’ idea” they tend to seize on whatever makes sense of their anxiety: At the level of ignorance, the distinction between fear of vaccinations and fear of federal debt is trivial.

  7. intlacct commented on Feb 9

    The ‘Big Lie’ was that this was somehow hidden: it is a Republican talking point on the public affairs circuit.

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