Obama Administration Fuzzy Math

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 9, 2009

It’s a pity that we will be looking to the Administration to give us guidance on job numbers. The reason it is a pity is that the numbers the Administration is giving us cannot be trusted:

Tony Fratto is envious.

Mr. Fratto was a colleague of mine in the Bush administration, and as a senior member of the White House communications shop, he knows just how difficult it can be to deal with a press corps skeptical about presidential economic claims. It now appears, however, that Mr. Fratto’s problem was that he simply lacked the magic words — jobs “saved or created.”

“Saved or created” has become the signature phrase for Barack Obama as he describes what his stimulus is doing for American jobs. His latest invocation came yesterday, when the president declared that the stimulus had already saved or created at least 150,000 American jobs — and announced he was ramping up some of the stimulus spending so he could “save or create” an additional 600,000 jobs this summer. These numbers come in the context of an earlier Obama promise that his recovery plan will “save or create three to four million jobs over the next two years.”

Mr. Fratto sees a double standard at play. “We would never have used a formula like ‘save or create,’” he tells me. “To begin with, the number is pure fiction — the administration has no way to measure how many jobs are actually being ‘saved.’ And if we had tried to use something this flimsy, the press would never have let us get away with it.”

Of course, the inability to measure Mr. Obama’s jobs formula is part of its attraction. Never mind that no one — not the Labor Department, not the Treasury, not the Bureau of Labor Statistics — actually measures “jobs saved.” As the New York Times delicately reports, Mr. Obama’s jobs claims are “based on macroeconomic estimates, not an actual counting of jobs.” Nice work if you can get away with it.

There is much more to condemn the Administration’s rhetoric. I know that I sound like a broken record, but a responsible press corps would have worked to shame the Administration out of using the “saved or created” formulation from the get-go. As it stands, the press corps is being utterly supine.

Quelle surprise, I know. But it is utterly galling.

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