The shell game


Last week’s announcement that the U.S. economy reached a milestone in May, restoring job losses to December 2007 levels (yippee!), reminds me of an incident from my son’s childhood. I had left him alone at the dinner table with instructions not to move until he finished his broccoli. Moments later he ran into the living room and announced (not unlike the federal government):

“Mom, I finished my broccoli—but don’t look.”

The truth about broccoli compliance was easily verifiable. But the authors of the sanguine employment report are crossing their fingers that the truth about the state of the economy is not so easy to check out. They are not as silly as my son was in their hunch. For in order to know for sure if the jobs report is as good as they claim it is, you would have to be privy to lots of arcane information you probably don’t have, and would need to be reasonably proficient with statistical analysis.

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Failing that, you would have to take time off from your job (if you have one) and stand on a street corner with a pen and pad and interview a statistically significant portion of the American population to see if they are gainfully employed.

Which brings to mind yet another analogy to government announcements, this one not homegrown but derived from a quip by the irreverent Groucho Marx:

 “Here’s to our wives and girlfriends. … May they never meet!”

The periodic reports of an economy roaring back, which we have been force-fed by a fawning media for the last five years as conditions steadily worsen, are also dispensed with crossed fingers on the safe bet that you can never prove they’re lies. Each one of us has only a small number of acquaintances, after all. Therefore, even if it may seem to people that an awful lot of their friends have lost their jobs, the credulous among them will simply conclude that their town has been particularly hard hit, but that in the rest of America things are evidently much improved.

It’s all a variation on the shell game, you see: the prison warden who loads a number of inmates onto buses to bring his mandatory population count down; the VA officials who keep a secret waiting list of veterans in need of care, to hide abysmal conditions in Veterans Affairs; the two sets of books on U.S. employment, one of them listing new job creation but neglecting to mention the dispirited job seekers who have given up the search.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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