Saturday, February 26, 2011

Deceiving Readers and Listeners

We now know why Rush Limbaugh is a radio broadcaster rather than a print journalist. Most people listening to their radio do so while engaged in another activity and don't have the opportunity to analyze critically what is said. So in an impressive sleight of hand, Limbaugh yesterday stated

From the Cybercast News Service: "The jobs created and saved by the economic stimulus law that President Barack Obama signed on Feb. 17, 2009 cost at a minimum an average of $228,055 each, according to data released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). In a report released Wednesday -- 'Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output from October Through December 2010' --" that's the title of this thing, "--the CBO said it now estimates the stimulus law cost a total of $821 billion, up from CBO’s original estimate that the stimulus would cost $787 billion. In the same report, the CBO estimated that in the fourth quarter of 2010 there were somewhere between 1.3 million and 3.5 million people who were then employed who would not have been had the stimulus not been enacted."

But regardless, $228,055 for every job created or saved. But big whoop.

Rush quoted accurately from the CNS article entitled "CBO: Jobs Created and Saved By Stimulus Cost At Minimum An Average of $228,055 Each." Notice, however, that writer Matt Cover uses a figure of $821 billion, the estimated total cost of the stimulus act- and reports 1.3 million to 3.5 million people employed in the fourth quarter of 2010. The figure for jobs created? One 3-month period. The figure for the cost of the program? The cost of the entire program.

Comparing apples and oranges? No, more like comparing apples and broccoli. The CBO, as the report (here, in PDF) indicates, does in fact "that the total impact over the 2009–2019 period will amount to $821 billion." It estimated that "close to half of that impact occurred in fiscal year 2010."

So let's figure that $410 billion was spent in fiscal year 2010, which would be 10/1/09-9/30/10. CBO estimated "about 70 percent of ARRA’s budgetary impact was realized by the close of that fiscal year." That would leave approximately $246,300,000,000 left to be spent beyond September 30, 2010. If, miraculously, all of that were spent in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2010 and had in fact created and/or saved only 1.3 million jobs (the very bottom of the range), that would be $189,462 per job. Far less than $228,055, but still a lot. Go to the upper end- 3.5 million- of jobs created, it would come out to $70,371. A lot less.

But that presupposes that all of the stimulus money now has been paid out, which it has not been. Further, while the CBO estimated the increase in the number of people employed in the period studied to have been 1.3 million to 3.5 million, it found the ARRA in the same period

increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 1.8 million to 5.0 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise, as shown in Table 1.
(Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers).

The ARRA has much more efficiently created/saved jobs than conceded by CNS, aside from the impact on the economy when those workers spent their earnings on various goods and services. But it's not surprising that this crowd would attempt to deceive its readers while it betrays ignorance of basic economics. CNS was once named the "Conservative News Service"( which, given the Republican slant of the mainstream media, is almost redundant). It is a division of the right-wing Media Research Center (L. Brent Bozell's outfit), which believes it must present an alternative to the liberal bias it perceives in the media.

It's very likely that Rush Limbaugh knows of this organization but chose not to inform his audience of its inevitable slant. For that matter, Limbaugh, who brags that he is not a college graduate and appears to have less knowledge of economics than other high school graduates, would not have supported the stimulus program if it created or saved jobs at the rate of one per $100 spent. Nor does he appear to understand the stimulative effect of public sector spending when neither the private, nor the consumer, sector is spending during a recession.

But he owes his listeners a lot more. As the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby (criticing Rush over Social Security and quoting a writer about Glenn Beck) argues,

Limbaugh isn’t a politician—he’s a very important national broadcaster with an extremely large audience. On a daily basis, he deceives millions of voters in just the way he did here. Why do people continue to trust him, in the way described by conservative writer Conor Friedersdorf a few weeks ago? In part, to borrow Friedersdorf’s language, because “they don't realize that [the nation’s radio stations] puts this man on the air fully understanding that large parts of his program are uninformed nonsense mixed with brazen bullshit” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/11).

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