Friday, November 6, 2009

Barking Jobs

"But the dogs that do not bark are not receiving as much attention as those that do."

Michael Cooper and Ron Nixon, "Reports Show Conflicting Number of Jobs Attributed to Stimulus Money," The New York Times, November 5, 2009.

In other words, those stimulus-money recipients who did report their jobs numbers for the recent federal report barked. Those 2,464 projects that spent nearly $1 billion but did not report jobs kept their bark to themselves.

Maybe transparency is not such a good thing until you've cleaned the data so that some sense can be made of it. Changing data after the fact sometimes raises even more questions.

The Obama administration is being especially brave by throwing these numbers up against the wall for everyone to look at. It would have been so simple to wait a while and then do some macro analysis of jobs per investment dollar -- direct, indirect, etc. Let the various agencies worry about contract-by contract accountability and reporting.

What we get instead is a messy work in progress that raises as many questions as it answers. We will learn a lot about definitions, reporting problems, estimations and so on. Maybe the raw empirical story will tell us something new. I hope so, because every new report that comes out will offer the anti-stimulus camp new ammunition about barking dogs.

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