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STOLBERG’S STATS! Sheryl Stolberg selected the stats which reflect her cohort’s crabbed values: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JULY 12, 2006

STOLBERG’S STATS: In this morning’s New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg serves up the stats which reflect her cohort’s Millionaire Pundit Values. At one point, the scribe quotes President Bush, who says, ''[T]his economy of ours is strong.” And then, she provides those selective statistics—and marvels at the views of the voters:
STOLBERG (7/12/06): By standard measurements, the economy does look good: a 4.6 percent unemployment rate, 5.4 million new jobs since August 2003 and a gross domestic product that grew an average of 4 percent in the past three years.

But a poll released last month by the Pew Research Center found that just 33 percent of respondents approved of Mr. Bush's handling of the economy, while 54 percent disapproved...

Stolberg’s construct: By standard measures, the economy looks good—but the public just won’t give Bush credit.

To state the obvious, the problem with the Stolberg piece rests with the stats she selects. Yes, that unemployment rate is fairly low; the job growth she records is roughly average; and that GDP growth rate is fairly high. But Stolberg fails to include any measure of median (or low) wages, and that is her report’s groaning problem. After all, you could imagine a growing economy in which millions of people toiled at brand-new, low-income jobs—while all the growth went to those at the top. For most people, that wouldn’t be a great economy. But then, it’s not unlike our present economy, the one which Stolberg seems to praise! Indeed, even David Gergen knows this. Here he was, on last night’s Hardball:

CHRIS MATTHEWS (7/11/06): The economy. David—you`re up in Harvard. Is this economy doing great or not?

GERGEN: Depends on whether you`re in the investor class or not, and you know, what you own.

This is a great economy in terms of growth. The productivity has been up, the economy has been growing over 3 percent for more than 10 quarters, it`s gotten up to the 4 to 5 percent range. By any normal standard, inflation still pretty low, that`s a great economy.

The problem is this issue of globalization. The globalization in my judgment has been the primary force in suppressing higher wages, higher income for people at the bottom half of the—of America, and that`s the reason why you have this great divergence between people who say, “Hey, look, the economy”—if you look at the numbers on the growth side, it looks great, but in terms of my actual life, most people find that their incomes are stagnant and they cannot afford the higher cost of health care and many other—and gasoline and many other things that are coming their way, and that`s why they`re very unhappy.

No one’s a bigger insider than Gergen, but he had no trouble understanding why people are down on the economy—despite the selective, feel-good stats which shape the Stolberg report.

By contrast, Stolberg seems completely unable to understand this simple problem. She starts her report with that Bush-friendly construct (the president is “[b]lessed with a growing economy but facing voters who do not give him much credit”). And even when she briefly escapes this construct, she can’t seem to internalize what she’s been told. Midway through, she quotes an economist who explains the voters’ negativity much as Gergen did:

STOLBERG: [S]ome economists say that the picture is not all that rosy and that this is one reason Mr. Bush is not getting the customary bump in the polls from what his advisers call ''robust economic growth and job creation.''

High gasoline prices, rising interest rates and unease over the war in Iraq are mostly to blame.

''High-income households, wealthier households, are doing fabulously well, but lower-middle-income households are struggling,'' said Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Economy.com, a nonpartisan, independent subsidiary of Moody's, the credit rating agency. ''It really is a tale of two households, and I think President Bush is not going to gain traction on the economy as long as there is this wide disparity.”

Zandi explains the problem much as Gergen did; “wealthier households are doing fabulously well, but lower-middle-income households are struggling.” But in her summary of what economists like Zandi are saying, Stolberg only mentions the rise in gasoline prices and interest rates. She never considers the more basic question—what is happening to most peoples’ incomes? According to Gergen, “most people find that their incomes are stagnant.” But the fundamental matter of median income never comes up in Stolberg’s report—a piece in which she constantly wonders why voters aren’t giving Bush credit for that rise in the GDP.

To our mind, these are Millionaire Pundit Values at their best. Best example of the mindset? Midway through, Stolberg quotes a cheerful Bush flak—then tags along as Bush whips through a factory in the midwest:

STOLBERG: ''People are personally pleased with their economic position but are anxious about the future,'' said Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, calling the shoe factory visit ''a real-life example that our economy is growing and prospering.''

The factory, Allen-Edmonds, specializes in high-quality men's dress shoes, including some owned by Mr. Bush.

By visiting, the president sought to draw attention to a company that has resisted industrywide pressure to move its operations overseas.

The company president, John Stollenwerk, gave Mr. Bush a pair of red, white and blue wingtip shoes, which the president promptly put on.

Mr. Bush said Allen-Edmonds had benefited from his tax cuts, calling it ''an American-based company making good American products.''

This company has “benefitted from Bush’s tax cuts?” Our follow-up: How much of the company’s gains have been returned to its workers in the form of wage hikes? And how many people on that factory floor are “personally pleased with their economic position?” Uh-oh! True to the values of her class, Stolberg forgot to ask.

THE VALUES OF UPPER-CLASS WASHINGTON: Here’s the problem: Stolberg cites the growth in GDP, but none of her statistics attempts to explain where that growth is going. Last week, a front-page report in the Washington Post seemed to give a partial answer— and helped us see what the lucky duckies whose incomes are soaring have done with their income gains. No, there’s nothing wrong with acquiring personal wealth—until it starts affecting our values and judgment. But make no mistake— Washington’s millionaire pundit class has gained a great deal in the Bush era. Like the people in this fascinating Post report, they are busy remodeling their bathrooms—and they often forget to speak to the people who work on those factory floors.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For a comical taste of Ted Koppel’s MPVs, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03. Yes, these Millionaire Values do explain a good deal of our mainstream press coverage.

MILLIONAIRE ADVISER VALUES: We emitted mordant chuckles when Stolberg quoted Al Hubbard, another major Bush helpmate:

STOLBERG: In addition to Mr. Bush's appearances, other administration officials, including Rob Portman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, were also giving interviews and making public appearances.

''Obviously, it's frustrating to us that the American people don't recognize how well the economy is doing,'' Mr. Hubbard said.

Too funny! Hubbard finds it “frustrating” when low-income people won’t cheer for gains which the rich are enjoying. But uh-oh! There’s no sign that Stolberg saw the irony in what Hubbard said.

A VOICE WAS SOUNDING: Woody Guthrie had his failings—but Millionaire Pundit Values weren’t among them. We plan to watch this program tonight. A few quotes from Guthrie tomorrow.