Saturday, October 6, 2012

Oh, to Have Had Ed Dale on the Case!

Edwin L. Dale Jr. was one of those New York Times reporters who knew as much as, and in some cases more than, the experts in his field, which was economics. 

For example, Ed was credited by economists with being one of the first to establish that the roots of inflation lay as much in the service sector as in the pricing of goods. He came to this insight in the 1950's and helped bring it to public awareness.

When Ed died in 1999, Joseph Laitin, a spokesman for Government agencies including the Treasury Department, said, ''One budget director commented to me after an interview that this man Dale was qualified to be budget director.''

Ed was famously good at digging out the real meaning of regular periodic government reports, like unemployment, gross national product, etc., and never accepting the official spin at face value.  These reports were widely available before the release date, which gave Ed plenty of time to report and evaluate the deeper meaning behind the numbers.

Occasionally a reporter, usually a wire service rookie, would rush to publish the numbers in advance of the release date.  "Statistics scooping," Ed would sneer.  "One of the lower forms of journalistic sin."

A couple of recent news stories reminded me of Ed, and how I wish his likes were still reporting from Washington.

One, just before the presidential "debate," was from a statistics scooper who wanted to appear wise.  I'm willing to bet he had a copy of the new employment report in hand when he wrote that the forthcoming data would be bad news for President Obama because the economy had only added 114,000 new jobs in the preceding month, which meant that the unemployment rate would be 8.2 per cent.

Then Willard Romney wiped the floor with Dr. Kidglove in the so-called debate.

Then the actual report came out.  The new jobs number was the same.  But magically, it had driven the unemployment rate down to 7.8 per cent, the lowest it had been since January of 2009.  Calloo, callay and hip-hip hooray for Kidglove and the Gutless Democrats of Oz.

"I wonder what Ed Dale would have done with this one," I thought.

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric and something of a hero in many economic circles, smelled the same rat.  "Unbelievable," he tweeted, setting off a wave of skepticism about the numbers, which the Administration promptly defended as being beyond finagling, even if someone wanted to finagle them.

I'm betting that Ed Dale would not only have smelled this rat, he'd have captured it, measured its tail, counted its whiskers and dumped it in the trash can with all the other recent government deceptions.

Oh, for the good old days.

No comments:

Post a Comment