Jack Welch’s conspiracy theory shows how out-of-touch with reality ideology can leave you

A good conspiracy theory is irrefutable. A bad one usually collapses when confronted by reality.

The claim by some supporters of Republican challenger Mitt Romney that President Barack Obama’s Chicago-based campaign doctored September’s unemployment figures for political gain falls into the second category, say members of both parties who have served in the government’s economic-data system.

Jack Welch, the former chief executive officer of General Electric Co. (GE), touched off an Internet-based frenzy on Oct. 5 when he suggested on Twitter that Obama’s team lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 7.8 percent to give the president a boost. “Unbelievable jobs numbers. . . these Chicago guys will do anything. . . can’t debate so change numbers,” he wrote…

On NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Robert Gibbs, an Obama campaign adviser, dismissed Welch’s remarks as “crazy.”

“I assume, David, there’s a number of people that believe the real unemployment report is somewhere in a safe in Nairobi with the president’s Kenyan birth certificate,” Gibbs said to moderator David Gregory. “This stuff is absolutely crazy…”

Joseph Stiglitz

Each month, federal agencies, staffed by career civil servants, compile the raw data that eventually become two jobs-day numbers: the unemployment rate and the total number of jobs added to the economy.

It begins on the Sunday of the week that has the 19th in it, with 2,000 Census Bureau workers knocking on 60,000 doors, asking residents if they were employed, or if they were seeking employment, in the last week, said Nancy Potok, the bureau’s associate director, in an interview on July 30.

The bureau has 20 days to complete the survey and send it to the BLS, which then has two or three days to provide the numbers to the Council of Economic Advisers, said Gary Steinberg, a BLS spokesman, in an Aug. 1 interview. Before transmitting the numbers to the CEA, the Census Bureau weights the data to adjust for non-answers and unresponsive households.

At the same time, the BLS is conducting the so-called establishment survey, by sending and receiving questionnaires to 486,000 work sites. The main question that separate survey seeks to answer: how many jobs the work sites had on their payrolls on the 12th of the month.

On the Thursday afternoon before Labor Department’s Friday release of the numbers, the BLS transmits both data sets to the Council of Economic Advisers, over a secure system. It then becomes the CEA chairman’s responsibility to provide the president with the numbers. All the data is transmitted over secure systems and it is often walked to the West Wing by the CEA chairman…

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz dismissed the conspiracy theory as “absurd.”

“No president, maybe except Nixon, would actually try to change what the Bureau of Labor Statistics does or what the BEA does,” Stiglitz said yesterday on MSNBC, referring to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. “These are really independent agencies and the idea that they would do that is literally absurd.”

Decades ago, few guidelines applied to the release of U.S. economic reports. In 1972, during President Richard Nixon’s term, Senator William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin and chairman of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, called the U.S. data unreliable. He decried “misleading economic indicators,” according to press reports at the time.

After an investigation, the committee concluded that the Nixon administration had manipulated the packaging and release of economic data, said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at Economic Outlook Group LLC in Princeton, New Jersey.

Since then, “controls have been increasingly made stricter,” he said.

“There’s no politics that goes into these numbers at all,” he said. “The way the U.S. collects economic statistics is viewed around the world as the gold standard…”

In our family, Hans Nichols is a particular favorite. Sometimes he looks like he isn’t old enough to shave – but, we don’t hold that against him. His articles and TV appearances go back far enough in time to prove he’s punched his time card enough times to prove he’s qualified to get serious assignments from the editors at Bloomberg TV and their publications.

This piece is all-encompassing which is as I guess it should be. Though the only rational conclusion is that Jack Welch is too overcome with his belief system and his own self-worth to let reality get in the way of a truly stupid rant. Which makes him easy to caricature as a former baron of American business – now over-the-hill and probably valueless to anyone other than the servants on his payroll.

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