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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Cheney Realizing His Lifelong Dream to be a Lightning Rod  | e-mail post

A friend of mine from some years ago used to say that he became a Democrat because "Ketchup is not a vegetable." For those of you too young to remember, or just a little foggy on your early-80's political brouhahas, this was a reference to the Reagan administration counting ketchup as a vegetable in federal school lunch programs. Obviously when that kind of rationalization is attempted to take nutrition away from impoverished children, it is pretty easy to think that the Republican party isn't the place for you. But, we haven't seen that kind of thing for quite a while. Until yesterday.

Dick Cheney, who has apparently been tasked with making the most outrageous claims possible on the campaign trail, yesterday told a crowd in Cincinatti that all of the economic doom and gloomers are forgetting that new bedrock foundation of American enterprise: eBay. Federal unemployment stats don't account for the 400,000 people who make selling on eBay a full or part-time job. [Cincinatti Enquirer]

Now, there is no denying that federal unemployment statistics don't do a very good job of tracking the broadening base of self-employment in the U.S., and this was ostensibly Cheney's point, as he was responding to a question from an audience member who said that as a self-employed individual he would be counted as unemployed in most statistics. Indeed, several of my friends and colleagues are nominally unemployed by these criteria, despite having enviable incomes. We should all be so lucky.

The White House actually prefers using what is called the Household Survey rather than the Payroll Survey to really judge employment. The reason being that there is no mechanism for counting the self-employed in the payroll survey, and it also lags at recognizing job creation in smaller and new businesses, while the Household survey asks people if they're working, not companies who they're employing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics outlines some of the differences between these two surveys in this PDF.

However, let's set aside the reality of the situation, since in politics we all know that the perception is the reality. Too few people are going to appreciate the subtle differences between different ways of assessing employment. Talking about eBay as offsetting the unemployment numbers many people are reading just opens you up to a lot of mocking. John Edwards even took the easy bait, pointing out that if we include bake sales and lemonade stands, the economy is probably doing great.

The only explanation I can think of is that this is at least a little bit funny and should distract people from his claims of a Kerry victory encouraging attacks on a weaker America, which really didn't play very well.

In possibly related news, I wonder where some of these eBay sellers get their merchandise.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Friday, September 10, 2004
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