A Crib Sheet for Government Data

Most sources — even big-time media types — provide no guidance about sources of information from the federal government.  There is a a useful advantage in knowing more.We realize that there are many who reject any government information.  Here at “A Dash” we believe that this is an extreme viewpoint, and provides an opportunity for a trading advantage.

In particular, we distinguish between reporting data and offering projections.  Those rejecting the data reports are just fighting the mainstream interpretations accepted by nearly all economists and by the mutual fund managers.  Projections are quite different.  They come from different sources, and the results vary.

A Reader’s Guide

Here are some typical examples of government information.  Our reaction varies dramatically and so should yours.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  This is a non-partisan agency.  The key professionals have tenure and earn respect from peers and supervisors by doing a good job.  A new President cannot fire them nor significantly affect their pay.  From their perspective, Presidents come and go but their work goes on.  They try to do a good job, and we think that they generally succeed.  The methods are subject to great debate before acceptance.  Once accepted, they are followed in a rather mechanical fashion.  Those suggesting that these reports are subject to partisan politics are just wrong.  They simply do not understand how government works.

The Office of Management and Budget is under the control of the current Administration, so it is partisan.  This does not mean that forecasts and comments are wrong, but consumers must consider the source.  At this time it means that forecasts reflect the Obama perspective.  Any forecasts should be carefully tested against outside sources.  For an illustration of how OMB can be slanted to a particular perspective, we recommend the Reagan era example of David Stockman.  In an interview he admitted a clear bias in forecasts and was “taken to the woodshed” by the President after he spilled the beans.  We are not suggesting that Obama is “cooking the books” with current forecasts, but we view them with appropriate skepticism, testing against other sources.  We plan to write much more about forecasts from the Administration.

The Congressional Budget Office is a source deserving respect.  We call this a bipartisan source, since it must earn and keep the respect of Congress, no matter which party is in power. Initiated in 1975 under the leadership of Alice Rivlin and later Rudolph Penner, the CBO analyses earned the respect of both parties in Congress.  Any young professional wanting to do objective policy analysis should see the CBO as a dream job.  In the current policy debates the CBO is responsible for evaluating every proposal.  This is especially crucial to the health care initiatives and the Congressional agreements concerning PAYGO, where there must be a revenue offset for new initiatives.  Here is a great current example.


The mainstream media does not explain these differences nor reflect them in reports.  A CNBC anchor recently kept referring to the CBO as the CBOE (an options exchange).  A top source at TheStreet.com recently attributed a CBO analysis to the GAO, even using the “old name” for the GAO.

They just don’t get it.  The big-time sources do not distinguish between various government sources.  They do not provide any background or context.  They do not grasp the distinctions.

You can do better!  You can start by printing out this article and using it as a handy reference.

Originally published at A Dash of Insight and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

One Response to "A Crib Sheet for Government Data"

  1. God of Finanace   June 26, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    God of FinanceEarthlings, listen up. I am your God, stupid, not him, your God of Finance. I, as you know …hadn’d been with you as long; only 700 years since Emperor Kublai Khan started paying paper instead of silver money. Of course scoundrels immediately started to cheat with faked look-alikes but the punishment was sufficient to deter these devious beings to spoil my coming-out party, heard of Death-by-a-Thousand-Cuts.I was once almost dead, chained by these little rules that they called regulations and destroyed over half of the planet by the halfling who called himself Marx. Devilish wasn’t he; the you-know-who compensated for his you-know-what by that gigantic beard. I was then freed by that odd couple, Ron and Margaret, I thought; but it was she, I believe, said “can do business”. Sorry to say it, but it is true that I am a fickle god and there had been many upheavals, not only in the land of my origin in the Yuan empire but also in much of the new European ones like that has-been Holy Roman province of the Tulip fields, the kill-all-the-Reds British South Seas, the new-paradigm swamps of the French Mississippi, the Versailles victimized Weimar, and of course the blindly blissful 1929 New York. Well, admit it; you are living in one!Contrary to common belief, I do not usually strike a touch of anger unannounced. There were some unchained souls like M. Roubini, Shiller, and even this halfling Krugman; all gentlemen of immense intelligence, and almost my ego, surely would have spoiled my next party, had it not been for your, say, l’armour d’argent. Ah, the causes. It was actually quit simple depiste what your weatherman tells you; I naturally live in your economy, which usually has a productive side, and a financial side. Like, some work and put food on the table, and others count it. So long as the two are balanced, the financial side supports the productive side and the productive side puts more demand on the financial side, which creates the wealth, you know, things like that shining suit on your chest, the sleek iPod in your pocket, and even that seedy establishment, you call it the mall, that you frequent.But unlike me, who is divine, you are only human. Every so often, especially with Ron and Margaret in business, you mistake the shenanigans as “Financial Innovation” – something like “efficient finance” actually produces real wealth by counting it many times. It happens like this. Production gets you feeling rich; you then juice it up by borrowing. Being low in intelligence and high on greed, you are carried away by borrowing so much, until that is, there is nowhere to borrow, only debts to repay, if you can repay at all. Your losses are also piling up at the same time.But, but, but… This time it’s different! You have a New Economy. I have these gifts to you of these talented banksters. Your friendly neighbourhood bankers, if you still remember them, and your scholarly central bankers, you see, are no longer your ally; much now mine and more of his, you know, the one who is denoted 666.I always had this small column of i-banksters, but this splendid army, I have to thank your Green skwer, and your weatherman in many a fine season. They gave me the shadow-banksters, and with their aid, I won over these your-smiling-uncle-banksters with huge bonuses and you-know-you-don’t-understand giant pay-packages. To make it certain, I make sure they are paid each year-end so I can have my joyous party on year 5. Even your dignified officials, you know the ones you elect, are in my banksters’ pockets. How do you think they are elected? Not to mention their Italian white shoes, English hand-tailored pinstrips, and trophy blondes in the elbows.You know you cannot win, but still tempted to jump in with these NYSE traps; I deliberately stir them up each quarter so you feel you have no choice. With each passing high-and-low, you feel your gut churn and churn, and I just watch on the sidelines with amusement. Just to magnify my drama, I reward your greed with higher-and-higher highs, and of course, when the end comes, I direct a tsunami on your fine behind.Like all gods, I cannot have mercy. I will have to punish you hard until you are pants down. I remember in 1929, those who feared me jumped and many a window had been thrown on the streets. This year, there hadn’t been a lot of that, only that little puddle of French red, but still it wasn’t fun. The thing is, if you are illusory thinking you all can get ahead by counting money, instead of producing it, you will be very sorry indeed. Like this year, your economy is really lopsided; so many counting, so few producing, and all are greedy.It looks like, all over again, nothing is learned. Your weatherman, he was a bean counter, wasn’t he, is telling you that great for your taxes, you will be on it again; it is all very predictable. What is going to happen is just going to be the same old game of the same people, intoxicated with the same old drug, pushing around the same amount of real money and each taking a same amount of little cut and then pushes it to the next stop. After enough of that go-around, you know there won’t be any cuts left but for the one on your tummy, almost sounds familiar. Oh really, it is not even the same amount of real money, remember you will have to repay your debts. When you are sorry again these more years, don’t say I haven’t told you so.