As President Donald Trump continues his attacks on the media by calling everything ‘fake news’ and championing ‘alternative facts,’ numbers experts are worried about doctored data coming from the administration.
Bloomberg News first reported these concerns, with economic experts pointing to the president’s propensity to play fast and loose with facts. He’s also shown disdain for economists in the past.
‘My biggest concern right now is about the unemployment statistics, just because the White House has been attacking them,’ noted Brent Moulton, who spent 32 years at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.
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Economic experts fear that President Donald Trump’s administration – which bashes ‘fake news’ and has championed ‘alternative facts’ – will doctor government data so the president looks good
Donald Trump (left), with wife Melania (right) at a rally on Saturday, has suggested that the unemployment rate is far higher than the Bureau of Labor Statistics says it is
Moulton, who is now retired, talked to Bloomberg last month about his fears, while also articulating them in a blog post.
Pushing back on the storyline that President Obama’s economy was doing well, Trump has repeatedly said the ‘real’ unemployment rate was far higher than the 4.7 percent the Bureau of Labor Statistics charted in December.
‘Don’t believe these phony numbers,’ Trump advised to his supporters. ‘The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35 … in fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.’
Trump’s treasury secretary pick, Steven Mnuchin repeated these kinds of claims during his Senate hearing, saying the ‘unemployment rate is not real.’
There are some rules in place to protect data, but they’re not a catch-all.
‘For example, a Cabinet secretary could still order the statistical agency to drop certain statistics or to change methodologies in ways that seem politically expedient,’ Moulton pointed out.
With Republicans eager to slash the federal budget, there are concerns that agencies generating official numbers could be cut.
‘What I worry about is funding to make sure that we have money to actually gather the data, and make sure that it’s reliable and durable,’ President Barack Obama’s former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told Bloomberg in an interview.
University of Oregon professor Mark Thoma, also cited by Bloomberg, said Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ mantra could spread to the data needed to keep the economy in check.
‘The worst thing he could do – and I see this as a real danger – would be to politicize the agencies that produce government economic data, to put people in place that will skew the numbers in his favor,’ Thoma said on CBS MoneyWatch.
‘If it happens, the data will be useless, and we’ll essentially be flying blind when it comes to the true state of the economy,’ Thoma added.
There could be generational issues too, stemming from this one administration alone.
Moulton worried that Trump’s rhetoric could drive away potential talent from government agencies and thus produce a government-wide brain drain.
‘I know how demoralizing that can be to employees when your statistics are being attacked and when you don’t have anyone at an agency level who can speak up for you and defend you,’ Moulton told Bloomberg.
‘I could view a situation, if that were to persist, where you could get employees leaving, finding other jobs and that sort of thing just because they find it demoralizing,’ he added.