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Thursday, January 15, 2009
Heritage Responds -- But Raises Even More Questions
Topic: Washington Examiner

Not only did we write here about the Washington Examiner's publication of a Heritage Foundation chart that cited unusually high figures for Depression-era umemployment, we wrote to the Examiner about it. The Examiner has printed the letter -- accompanied by a response from Heritage’s William Beach. But Beach's response creates even more misperceptions.

Beach writes: "Heritage cites widely accepted census data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics." But the chart in question doesn’t use BLS numbers; its source is listed as "Bureau of the Census, Bicentennial Edition Historical Statistics of the United States Colonial Times to 1970 Part 1." The BLS website offers much different numbers for the time period in question than does the Heritage chart; for instance, BLS lists 1933 unemployment as 24.9 percent, while the Heritage chart of census-sourced numbers places it well above 35 percent. Beach offers no explanation for the discrepancy, or why it chose the much higher census numbers over BLS.

Beach then cites George Mason University economist Alex Tabarrok to back up his claim that counting people in government work programs as unemployed "remains standard practice." But a 1983 Journal of Economic History article by Gene Smiley (who has been published by the libertarian Independent Institute, where Tabarrok is research director) states that "Since World War II the BLS does not count as unemployed those employed in any type of government relief programs."

Beach also writes that the BLS "didn't treat CCC workers, prisoners or anyone else who got only 'three hots and a cot' as being a government employee": Why is Beach putting CCC workers -- who did actual work for their "three hots and a cot" and took part more or less voluntarily -- in the same category as prisoners working involuntarily for much less than minimum wage and as the result of having committed a crime? Does he really think the two are the same? Or is Beach so anti-government that he considers any form of government compensation to be illegitimate, even if one worked for it?

In short, Beach didn't answer our questions and raised even more questions about Heritage's motivation in promoting questionable statistics.

UPDATE: Heritage's blog responds further on the general notion of the New Deal not "solving" unemployment. My colleagues at County Fair fire back:

Got that?  Heritage sniffs that the New Deal "never solved unemployment" because it did not bring unemployment from 25 percent all the way down to 5.5 percent.

If the worst the far-right Heritage Foundation can say about the New Deal is that it failed to cut the unemployment rate by 80 percent, that sounds like a pretty solid, if accidental, endorsement to me.

Posted by Terry K. at 1:23 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, January 15, 2009 7:12 PM EST

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