Sunday, June 5, 2011

Looking for Hay in a Needle Stack

“Economists had expected payrolls to rise 150,000 and private hiring to increase 175,000 in May,” reported CNBC and all the other media outlets as they once again struck the familiar refrain on the ‘unexpected’ anemic jobs report at the end of the week. These, remember, are the same economists who have been telling us we’re in a recovery; that the markets are coming back; and, that our economic woes are the product of a real estate crisis.

Nothing, save political melancholy delusions, could justify the expectations that were off by over 100,000 jobs in May. And the degree to which we’re still reporting and responding to data that we: a) know is manipulated and incorrect; and, b) is not predictive of any modern market dynamic (same predictable political pandering) is staggering. I was grateful to Mary Engle at MSN Money who had the decency of reporting the 16.6% (or greater) actual unemployment statistics when one counts those who are chronically without gainful employment.

As I made the rounds in D.C. this past week – visits with industry lobbyists and Congressional representatives – I was intrigued by the degree to which we find ourselves uniformly beyond the edge of utility with the navigational tools which have aided our captains in wrecking our economy’s prospects. Yet we’re still incapable of cutting ourselves free from these albatrosses (or albatrossi) and re-examining fundamentals. In a rather poignant moment with a free-market conservative freshman member of Congress, I was explaining the need for Congress to consider solutions to economic challenges from the private sector that would require NO NEW legislation and NO NEW appropriations. In fact, what we were discussing simply requires enabling laws that have been around since the Lincoln Administration. Confronted with a call for transparent application of existing law, the member placed his hand on his forehead and said, “I guess I’m not sure what you’re asking me to do.”

Moments earlier, in the same Congressional office, a lobbyist was briefing staff on ‘key issues’ that were relevant to the member’s District. “You know, we can really be helpful in keeping the Congressman’s staff informed,” she gushed. When asked to provide input on said matters, she rattled off a list of her lobbyist colleagues who could help as her area of expertise was health care but she had colleagues in a number of other disciplines. “Just let us know what you need information about and we’ll supply you with experts,” she generously offered.

The Court of Appeals has a wonderful term – the willful practice of ignorance. This term is applied to people who, knowing that there could be information that is material to their concerns, elect to move forward without any due effort to inform themselves. On Capitol Hill, this principle extends to listening to those who have evidenced a detachment from reality in the past who persist in purveying their nonsensical views.

As we move into an acrimonious election cycle and we see the sabers sharpened on the whetstone of consensus ignorance, I wonder what it will take for us to start applying some performance discernment to the voices we elect to consume. Medicare and Medicaid, pensions, municipal bonds, public sector employment, and the dollar are all among the institutions which will NOT pass unaltered in the coming weeks and months. China’s inevitable re-marking of the value of Treasuries – something that they’ve already broadcast in their recent ‘hospitality’ afforded to the Treasury Secretary and the Federal Reserve Chairman – is not a forecast but a certainty. Realizing that China and other sovereign funds will be necessary clients in the future, S&P and Moody’s are making trifling negative statements about the U.S. economic situation realizing that to do any less would guarantee them status as relics next to other paleontology exhibitions of those who could not evolve when the climate changed.

It’s not that the models don’t work. It’s not that the metrics are inaccurate. No, it’s that the consciousness that decided what to model and what to measure is at its terminus and we’re now at the natural consequence of the line to which we sought a regression of our standard of living and our hegemonic self-perceptions. Now, the outlier is the new metric and the aggregation of perturbations is the new model. We’re not looking for the one variable that will fix the ‘old’ models but we require focus with new lenses on new variables. There’s no needle in the haystack that will save us. We are ready to go back to our roots and reassemble ourselves around productivity and accountability. And that voice, my friends, is truly rare!

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave