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Posted by on Feb 10, 2009 in Economy, Politics, Society | 14 comments

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

The following graph has been getting a lot of play on the web. It was put out by the Office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

As you can see, it shows that in comparison to the two most recent recessions, we have lost a bunch of jobs. The graph has “focused the mind” of some bloggers like Andrew Sullivan:

This graph sure does concentrate the mind and reveals, to my mind, the surrealism of the current GOP. They spent the last eight years spending like FDR in a boom and now they’re born again fiscal conservatives?

And Justin Gardner:

One note…I’ve seen some comparing Obama’s selling of the stimulus to Bush’s selling of the Iraq war. While I acknowledge that when Obama talks of dire consequences there is a twinge of Bush in it, I think we can all look to the graph above and see the trouble is real…and that wasn’t the case with Iraq.

But the graph is not telling the whole story. Yes, we have lost a lot of jobs in this recession and when compared to the last two recessions, it looks pretty bad.

However, some information have been left out of this graph. That is, the other two recessions prior to the 1990 recession which were far more severe than the 90-91 recession and the 2000-01 recession.

Justin Fox over at Time
shows the comparisons of the last five recessions. The result is that this recession in on par with the ’74-’75 recession and the ’81-’82 recession, two very severe recessions.

What do we learn? So far the fall in employment is comparable to that in 1974-1975 and 1981-1982. If the comparison holds, the declines should end within the next four or five months. But we of course have no idea whether the comparison will hold. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

We don’t really know how this recession will play itself out. It could make the big recessions in the 70s and 80s look like nothing. This also doesn’t mean that we should not do nothing in light of all this.

That said, the graph tends to use fear to get the public to support the current stimulus plan. Okay, but then show all the info, not just the stuff that will support your argument.