The Unemployment Rate

New broke in the middle of Friday morning that the unemployment rate had dropped from 8.1% to 7.8%, he lowest rate since President Obama took office.  Hooray!  Right?  It probably depends on which candidate you’re supporting for President.  Democrats are trumpeting this as proof that the President’s policies are working:  “We’ve made it back through the mess to where we started” has been the general refrain (James Taranto has one of my favorite tweets about this reaction).

I was surprised by the number.  I had heard through Twitter that economists expected the rate to remain at 8.1% or jump to 8.2% (less likely) and were not expecting a drop in the number.  So when it happened there was some immediate skepticism from the right about the legitimacy of the numbers.  Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, was one of the first to publicly express some doubts about the numbers.  He was promptly blasted by the MSM and praised by hard core government skeptic conservatives.  In order to give Jack Welch an opportunity to defend himself, please check out his interview with Chris Matthews, where he explains his opinion fully.

What then do we make of these numbers?  First, let us note that conservatives are skeptical of the government.  There are some who believe the government is evil, and liberals are quick to claim they represent the majority of those on the right in an effort to discredit them and the right’s attempts to contribute to media coverage.  Second, let us note that as President, President Obama has some power to influence things.  Jay Cost with The Weekly Standard went through a long list of past presidential election manipulation that is worth reading for the history lesson.  And the reminder that Presidents (and Congressmen) will do anything to preserve their jobs.  I point this out because we must remember the President, like any CEO, Congressman, salesperson or assembly line worker, is interested in keeping his job.  He may be more interested because his directly affects his public legacy unlike any other (think very quickly about your opinions of Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, the last two presidents to lose their reelection campaign.  The public psyche assumes they were far lessor presidents that Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush because they failed to secure a second term).

Naturally, the Romney campaign has dived into the numbers and expressed skepticism in the validity of the numbers, stating simply “this is not what a real recovery looks like“.  The biggest surprise about the BLS report is the discrepancy between the two surveys they reference (and the reason the right is rolling their eyes at this).  Again, stated simply, The Household Survey showed a gain of 873,000 people employed in September – resulting in the surprise drop in the unemployment rate – while the Establishment Survey only showed a rise of 114,000 [people employed].” So one survey shows 114,000 new jobs added, and another showed 873,000 more people employed.  Throw in that this is the single largest drop in the unemployment rate in 29 years in a period of time when other economic indicators are showing stagnation across much of the economy, and you can queue the right’s head scratching and, honestly, I think it is completely legitimate.

The president will be trumpeting this for the next month, as he should, and Romney’s response is going to have to be strong.  He can state, simply and accurately, that the primary reason for this drop is workforce participation keeps dropping, and he is accurate.  How much of this is due to the retirement of elderly workers as the American workforce ages is up for debate (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago says potentially as much as half).  Either way, Romney can argue the rate would be 8.5% is the same people were working now as in January of 2012, and that the rate would be around 10.7%.  It is a convincing counterargument if it is heeded, and only time will tell if it is.  The heat has been turned up.

Edit:  Just had this thought:  does this mean President Obama thinks he is vulnerable on the economy and unemployment rate?  I would argue yes.  Romney probably needs to keep the attacks up.

Debate Thoughts

Normally I do not like presidential campaign debates very much.  I think they’re designed for talking points and very little substantive discussion of ideas.  Because of this structure we pay way more attention to the theater of the debate and the overall campaign than I think is healthy and we end up awarding a victor based on feeling, look, body language.  All of these things matter, but not nearly as much as the ideas the candidates who carry these characteristics bring to the table.

That said, I loved the debate on Wednesday.  Jim Lehrer (God rest is soul for all of the crap he is getting for letting these men discuss ideas) actually let President Obama and Governor Romney discuss, argue, debate for crying out loud.  There was a very healthy back and forth allowing each candidate to attack their opponent’s ideas and defend himself from the same.  It was fantastic.  What is unfortunate is that this “style” was terrible for President Obama.  It has always been clear the President prefers to discuss things in a prepared statement, with carefully considered wording and a teleprompter to boot, and Democratic consultants and operatives spent much of the week before the debate trying to lower expectations for the President.  And they were right:  the President looked awful.  Theories abound about why the President performed so poorly (Al Gore’s is still my favorite), and you can see some of them here.

My own theories is this:  President Obama is a speaker, and in his vaunted speeches creates straw men and ruthlessly attacks them.  Without someone to defend his opponents position, the President can get away saying anything he wants.  Enter Mitt Romney, whose command of facts and figures (e.g., $90 billion hires 2 million teachers comment) and the President’s inability to defend himself gave the Governor a considerable advantage.

Why this aggressive Romney?  I think there are two reasons.  First, Romney, by his nature, is a “wonk”, more interested in facts and figures than in high rhetoric.  By the nature of his preparation, he was going to come ready to debate.  Secondly, and maybe more importantly, Romney  and his campaign finally figured out he needed to rock President Obama to gain some momentum after his lukewarm convention performance.  Fuller thoughts on this topic can be found here courtesy of Michael Gerson.

An Alternative Approach – Health Care Vouchers

I cannot say I hate the idea entirely.

An Alternative Approach To Health Reform: Vouchers For All

Where is the annual Social Security Report?

Sitting somewhere in President Obama’s desk, hidden away as far as it can be, is my guess.

Every year, the Annual Report of the Social Security Board of Trustees comes out between mid-April and mid-May.  Now it’s July, and there’s no sign of this year’s report.  What is the Obama administration hiding?

Obamacare’s impact on Medicare is most likely.  This report details not only the condition of Social Security (which, let us be honest, it not taken out of your check to pay you back later, but for Washington’s own spending priorities) and Medicare, which Obamacare is going to thoroughly cripple.  Obamacare made steep cuts to Medicare and the fact that this report is not yet out tells this voter everything he needs to know about what President Obama has done to the health care system.

source

Obama’s First Oval Office Address

President Obama, why did you waste 18 minutes of my time last night?

Please allow me to list three points of interest from last nights speech:

  • President Obama has no power to force BP to set up an escrow account.  That was just more empty talk.
  • Why is there confusion about whether or not the “Nobel prize winning” Secretary of Energy has a Nobel prize?
  • There was not command, no direction, and no authority is anything President Obama said last night.

Now watch MSNBC tear President Obama apart.

Doctor Shortage

Yup, you heard it here that it may be a problem and now we see that it already is.  As the ranks of insured expand we will see an approximate shortage of 150,000 doctors, mainly primary care doctors, in the next 15 years, according to medical experts.

Part of the problem is that medical money is wrapped up in testing due to how our insurance system is currently set up (more on this to come), leading many doctors to go into very specialized fields.  Between 2002 and 2007 the number of medical school applicants entering family medicine fell by more than a quarter.  This drop will more than likely mean longer lines to visit your primary care physician, especially when the millions of uninsured are finally insured under Obamacare.

Do not take this as a critique of doctors because they are behaving rationally.  This is a critique of the system currently in place.  This is the way the system is currently set up:

Employer-Provided Family Benefit

(Husband and Wife, no Children)

Annual Expenditure Employee Pays Employer Pays
1st $800 $800 $0
Next $8800 $1600 (20%) $6400
Above $8800 $0 ALL

This is what this means:  For all medical expenditures, you, the employee, pay the first $800.  This is more commonly known as the deductible.  For the next $8000, the employee pays 20%, or $1600, and the employer pays 80%, or $6400.  Everything above that $8800 mark, the employer pays for all.  To use an illustration Dr. Newell used in class, image this product which your employer provides for is food.  What would you be tempted to do?  Overindulge is correct.  You would as quickly as possible get to the $800 mark so that your employer picked up the slack and then everything after that would be mostly paid for by someone else.  If this was me, Megan and I would be eating Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, and Texas de Brazil all the time.  Why?  “Because I am not paying for it baby!”

The same concept applies to your health insurance.  Once you reach a certain level, as long as you (or more commonly, your employer) are paying for your insurance you can have as much testing, as many name brand prescription drugs, and as many doctors visits as you want and all you will have to pay in the course of a year is $2400, no matter how much you use it.  The incentive is to overindulge, resulting in higher health care costs.

The problem Obamacare is (at least overtly) seeking to combat is the rising cost of health care.  The reality is that his “reform” does not reform anything, it only regulates.  If we really want to reform we must change the system itself.  One way to do this is through Health Savings Accounts, which have been used with some success by Indiana state employees.  Mitch Daniels, the current governor of Indiana, was the leader of the state when they moved to these Health Savings Accounts as an option for all employees.  What Indiana does is deposit $2750/year in an account that is completely controlled by the employee.  So when they need a prescription, they can ask for a generic (and save a bundle) and make cost conscious decisions about testing.  The savings this is generating for the state in health care costs is truly startling considering where health care costs have been going.  Even more encouraging is that a whopping 70% of Indiana state employees opted into the system!  Why?  Because when the year ends, they get to keep everything left in their health savings account.  There are numerous tax advantages to a Health Savings Account, which you can read about here.

If we truly want lower costs then we need to change the system, in particular by giving individuals more power over it.  Further regulation will not drive down costs.

Ten GOP Health Ideas for Obama

Newt Gingrich and John Goodman strike!  Read on.