Thursday, July 14, 2005

The ironically-named Accuracy in Academia has bestowed its "Little Churchill" awards. I am particularly intruiged by this award: "The Little Churchill prize for accuracy. This award also functions as a lifetime achievement award for historian Howard Zinn. If he had written nothing else, and many of us wish that were the case, the grand master of historical fantasy would win the award for his demonstrably unfounded assertion that unemployment grew during the Reagan Years."
"Demonstrably unfounded"?
Actually, it is true in a couple of senses. First, unemployment did rise dramatically during the Reagan Years before declining. But it's even true on an average basis. If you examine the Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate figures, what you find is that the average monthly unemployment rate in the US from Feb. 1981 to Jan. 1989 was 7.5146 percent. And what was the unemployment rate in Jan. 1981 when Reagan took office? 7.5 percent. A small rise, and vulnerable to rounding errors, but a rise nonetheless. There are other factors which indicate that unemployment during the Reagan Era was understated due to long-term unemployment and shifts in calculating the rate. In addition, Wikipedia notes: "In 1999, economists Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger estimated that increased incarceration lowered measured unemployment in the United States by 0.17 percentage points between 1985 and the late 1990s."
So, the next time the right tells you something is "demonstrably unfounded," ask them to demonstrate it.

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