Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Econ 301: Data and Doubt

If like me you have a solid background in advanced real-world empirical economics, you're probably getting rather annoyed by now with the creatively optimistic interpretations of every stat release that comes out. This is generally a manifestation of confirmation bias, the tendency on the part of somewhat naive ideologues to see everything as evidence of their own wishes manifesting rather than as data points for objective assessment in a coherent empirical framework. Pointing out to same that they don't really know what they're talking about is somewhat futile -- ideologues follow pre-dispositions, not evidence and objective analysis, and the attempt will probably just get you called names. Especially as they tend to be certain they ARE being objective, despite the contrary evidence and their own lack of expertise in the field.

For those more interested in what's actually going on than in simply cheerleading their own fantasy scenarios, David Rosenberg of Gluskin-Sheff has a handy and concise list of some of the most mis-represented stats currently being used to cheerlead (and claim admin credit for) a "recovery" that at best looks to be somewhat slow and anemic at this point. A sample:
The ISM index came out before the payroll numbers did and injected a big round of enthusiasm into the pro-cyclical camp. The index did shoot up in March, to 59.6 from 56.5, and while many of the components were up, the prime reason for the increase was the eight-point surge in the inventory component, to 55.3. Moreover, the orders-to-inventories ratio slid to a level suggesting that we could be in for a big pullback in the next few months. Meanwhile, very little attention has been made to the construction spending data, which sagged 1.3% MoM in February with broad-based declines across sectors — and January’s 0.6% drop was revised to -1.4% (the fourth slippage in a row).

Go read the whole thing at the link. It's a good quick-and-dirty capsule check on why the institutional investors are not nearly as sanguine about the current condition of the national economy as the administration mouthpieces and partisan cheerleaders are.

UPDATE: Some related thoughts on the unemployment figures.

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