From the WSJ:
The slack job creation isn’t as bad if you average it with the revised figures since December. The average job growth for the last four months is 181,000, and 169,000 over the last year. Nonetheless, in the 45 months since the recession ended, job creation has averaged 113,000 fewer jobs a month than in a normal recovery, according to Congress’s Joint Economic Committee.
If job creation had kept pace with a typical expansion, about 4.2 million more Americans would be collecting a paycheck. The March decline is especially disappointing given the stock market’s strong run and other signs of revived confidence.
As I’ve mentioned many times on the blog before, job growth around the 150,000 mark per month is not actually job growth. The population of the country grows at about one-percent per year. Right now, with our population is somewhere around the 330 million mark, it takes about 165,000 jobs created per month just to keep up with this level of growth. (Assuming a workforce participation rate around 60%.) In previous employment posts, the number was 145,000 per month. And this number is just an average, population growth varies month to month and you have to make some accounting for our aging population.
Still, averaging 169,000 jobs a month over a year means the economy is barely growing enough to support the growing population. That is not a recovery. It’s a floor. We hit rock bottom, and stayed there, eventually we started moving sideways. And this stretch of negligible, meaningless growth IS the recovery. I hate to think what our next correction is going to look like.
There are three parts of GDP, consumer spending, investment (business spending) and government spending. Consumer spending is good because people are getting stuff they want. Investment is good because it grows the pie; investments will, on average in a free economy, return more than what gets put in. Government spending is good when it protects and enables these other categories of GDP. Roads, courts, police, institutions in general, military power and secure borders. Maybe education, if we ever figure out how to deliver a decent education. These are moral uses of economic resources. Not much else. The more government spends, the more it takes capital away from the other two categories, i.e. it takes away from 1) what people want and need 2) investment aimed at getting people more of the stuff they want or need. Every rent-taking bureaucrat, every Parkinson’s Law contractor, every unnecessary ditch and road is immoral.
Bush was President and the world was coming to an end?
Thankfully, there’s no such thing as peak oil anymore.
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I was a political addict for a very long period of time, and one of the symptoms of political addiction is watching every POTUS speech. From about 1995 or so through around the end of Obama’s first year in office, I watched every State of the Union speech, plus whatever other speeches and press conferences I could.
It was a total waste. Could I tell you anything about any of those speeches? No, with the exception of Bush II’s “Hear all of us soon” speech at Ground Zero. Otherwise, nothing. Political speeches, especially in America, approach the theoritical limits of vapidity.
The State of the Union of especially insipid. Anyone can produce a laundry list, throw in some glittering generalities and enjoy the applause of the sycophants who belong in your party. Antonin Scalia gets this right, don’t watch, don’t bother with the State of the Union. I take this even further and tend to avoid paying any attention to the rhetoric of any politician, regardless of party. And this has changed my life for the better. I feel just as informed as before (I still read the news, as long as it has some substance to it) and I don’t feel any pressure whatsoever to let some suit-wearing confidence man sell me intellectual smegma.
David Brooks, NYT columnist, has been writing a lot lately about statistics and all the studies being churned out by social and psychological researchers. And, based on an earlier column of his I read this year, he is going to spend a lot more column space on these topics in the future. He is just one member of a growing movement of data-based-decision makers, or “quants”, who intend to use statistics in every corner of their lives, and subsequently in every corner of ours.
There are plenty of reasons to oppose this sort of philosophy from the libertarian or conservative perspective. The lack of freedom and destruction of tradition in the name of statistics is still upheaval and oppression, even if it’s supposedly good for us. It hurts seeing this from a guy like Brooks, who is from the right and with whom I agree more than disagree, but I admit the idea of a “statistically perfect” life is alluring to some, including me. While the “philosophy of data” might help us in our understanding of why we behave the way we do, we need to tread carefully, it’s not all that effective. And the more you use “studies” to try to make changes in the real world, the less effective it will be.
One of the studies Brooks’ cites in his column was research showing changing the shape of a glass can get people to drink less while thinking they drink more. It’s basically an optical illusion, but the study showed people who used very tall and narrow glasses consumed less than a control group using standard glasses, but they (the tall-glass people) ‘felt’ they had consumed more liquid than they actually consumed. And the liberal fascist immediately thinks “hey, we should make a law saying all carbonated beverages should be consumed in these tall and narrow glasses, certainly this will end our obesity problem.”
It won’t, because these little effects disappear at the macro level, over the longterm.
I used statistical evidence for a long time as I tried to gain control over my weight. I knew the research and did my best to use small plates (a study showed people eat less when using small plates), I never allowed myself to be distracted while eating (another study), I took smaller bites (another study), drank a big glass of water before eating (another study), always ate breakfast (another study), and did some other things that were supposed to help me control my eating. And none of it worked, because my body knew how much it was eating, even if my brain thought I was eating enough because my plates were small and I always waited 20 minutes after eating before having a dessert.
The research I was using was fine, it wasn’t fraudelent, it’s just the effects found in those studies didn’t have staying power. Most of the time these studies are done over very short periods of time (it should be obvious the tall/thin glass effect and the small plate effect weren’t going to undo a billion years of evolution telling us to eat as much as we can now because tomorrow we might not have any food); it’s common sense, but common sense is the first thing lost when using data to make decisions about your life.
I’m not saying data is bad or that the studies are meaningless. But I am saying that studies try to control all the factors to find an effect, but it’s impossible to control all the factors in the complex system (real life) where you’re going to try to enact the changes you found in the study. Life is complicated, lab research is simple. It’s as straightforward as that. Use data when you can, but understand its limitations. (What’s truly ironic is you have to be very statistically savvy to understand exactly why you should skeptical of every new ‘study’ that’s thrown around the popular press, but that’s a topic for another post.)
We’re going to see more of this in the future. Why? because it works. People feel better about anything when the “science” label is put on it, and the left has now claimed the “science” ground even though they have no more claim to it than anyone else (it doesn’t help that some conservatives have abandoned science to the left, to the detriment of conservatism.) The best cure is to learn as much about the scientific method and as much about statistics and probability as possible. Science doesn’t belong to any political movement, and no more than a few decades ago statistics was considered a “right-wing” way of looking at the world because it was devoid of liberal values like compassion. If liberals can have data and keep their values of compassion, there’s no reason why conservatives can’t embrace the same while still adhering to our values of tradition and freedom.*
[One interesting area where statistical research has changed my life is shopping. I once read research showing that if a person touches something, they are much more likely to purchase the item. I try to be frugal, so every time I touch an object while shopping, I reflect on this research and re-evaluate whether I really need the object. I even made a rule, if I touch an object and I don't absolutely need it, I put it back. Sometimes I come back on another trip and buy it, but not normally. From the opposite side, whenever I'm selling something (I normally work retail), I always find a way to get the customer to touch the object.]
*Yes, I know there’s tension between freedom and tradition, but it’s not as severe a divide as some people would like to think. Again, a topic for another post.
From where does the word “Statistic” originate? Wiktionary says:
“From German Statistik, from New Latin statisticum (“of the state”) and Italian statista (“statesman, politician”). Statistik introduced by Gottfried Achenwall (1749), originally designated the analysis of data about the state.”
So we shouldn’t be surprised, and in fact it’s been a common force in left-wing thinking, that statistics will be used as a rational for growing The State. Statistics, both real and otherwise, will always be used to help The State in its growth into the leviathan.
- The novel is coming along alright. I’m now doing the final edit, and waiting for feedback from my reviewers. I probably won’t be able to release it before Christmas because of my new job. But I’ll try anyway.
- If anyone wants my pWP data for 2012, I made a pdf of my spreadsheets. It’s there if anyone wants to try to replicate my results. Just email me through my About page or leave a comment in this post.
- I am currently working a new job at Walmart, and while it’s not necessary, I do want to say that anything I post here is my own work and views, and nothing here represents Walmart in any way and that I do not represent Walmart in any way, official or not.
- The futility of blogging: In nine years, I have published nearly 5000 posts and earned an invite to the 2008 RNC. In that time, I have earned $11.80 from Amazon.com’s referral program. I’ve “earned” about 17 dollars from Google ads but I can’t collect it. And I got a huge $175 from a one-time text-ad deal. That’s less than 200 dollars. And the sad part is that’s far more money than most bloggers out there will ever earn blogging. The writing bug is just about the worst ill that could befall a human being.
Some pWP notes that didn’t get published during the election, when they would have made more sense:
- Anyone looking really close at some of my pWP graphs will notice the pWP of any individual poll never goes above 95% or below 5%. This is a product of my general philosophy of statistics. There is always some level of “Black Swan-ness” that erodes the confidence I have in the predictability of something like an election. One candidate can die, or commit a crime, or say something awful, etc. These tail events are more common than you’d think, and when combined with the limitations of polling and just a generic fudge-factor, I made the decision that we can never be more than 95% confident a particular candidate will win an election except in extraordinary circumstances. There have been several polls that would have put Obama above the 95% pWP mark, just so you know.
- The tracking polls, which give rolling averages of five or more days, are my nightmare. They basically make my task of trying to calculate the impact of events on the electorate completely impossible. I don’t know how to properly account for them, and they represent a majority of the polls I use for measuring POTUS pWP. I have a few ideas on how to change things for next election, but it basically increases my workload sevenfold.
- How to think about God, by Mortimer Adler. This short book on “philosophic theology” is really incredible. Adler outlines the traditional deductive arguments for the existence of God, and strengthens them. His argument does not require any religious experience, feelings, supernatural experiences or any other questionable claims that are easily discarded by skeptics. His argument, focused on the idea of radical contingency, is surprisingly strong. Anyone interested in theology, and in particular arguments for the existence of God, should read this book.
- Finished the Khan Academy Macroeconomics playlist. Conservatives and libertarians generally object to the methods of macroeconomics, and their criticisms are strong. But the vast majority of conservatives and libertarians, at least among those I know, don’t have a strong grasp of macroeconomic orthodoxy. Sal’s playlist gives a very good starting point and puts those criticisms in proper context.
- 2016: Obama’s America. I like Dinish D’Souza. I do. But he destroyed any credibility he had by making this film. imho.
- The Punisher: Kingdome Gone. This was a shortish graphic novel I found lying around the house. It’s older, and a little tame. There’s some kind of underlying political message that I didn’t entirely comprehend about the invasion of Grenada.
- The Walking Dead; Compendium 1. [It's awesome, just FYI]
- I and Thou, by Martin Buber. I was first introduced to Buber in a Freshman seminar. Since then, I’ve been a big fan.
This is a list of business books that will, according to this Kaufman guy, effectively replace the MBA (which he believes in worthless). I’m posting it here so I have it somewhere. I thought some of you might find this edifying as well.
Here’s a selected portion of Kaufman’s 99 best business books by category.
ACCOUNTING AND FINANCE
Accounting Made Easy by Mike Piper
The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Finance by Robert A. Cooke
How to Read a Financial Report by John Tracy
How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff
Principles of Statistics by M.G. Bulmer
Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies by Nikos Mourkogiannis
Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chain Kim and Renee Mauborgne
Green to Gold by David Esty and Andrew Winston
Seeing What’s Next by Clayton M. Christensen, Erik A. Roth, and Scott D. Anthony
First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter
Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen
Hiring Smart by Pierre Mornell
The Essential Drucker by Peter Drucker
All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin
Permission Marketing by Seth Godin
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout
Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun
Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker
Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
The Knack by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham
Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim
Bankable Business Plan by Edward Rogoff
Tribes by Seth Godin
Total Leadership by Stewart Friedman
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan by Jayme A. Check et al
The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig