Update – Data Paranoia Watch: “I’ve read that others think the CES was manipulated to provide a more rosy picture heading into the election”

Reader Steve Kopits writes about the debate over employment numbers:

At the same time, I thought it possible that both surveys were in fact correct, but garbled with the effect of the recovery from the suppression, thereby creating misleading impressions because we were misinterpreting the data. That still seems possible, though I’ve read that others think the CES was manipulated to provide a more rosy picture heading into the election.

This statement joins a long pile of such allegations, e.g.,  Senator BarrasoJack Welchformer Rep. Allan WestZerohedgeMick Mulvaney, among others. All I can say is that if there was a conspiracy, they didn’t do a very good job. With the benefit of the January benchmark revision, we can update our assessment of how badly the purported conspirators performed their job.

Figure 1: Nonfarm payroll employment in January 2023 release (red), in October 2022 release (blue), in 000’s, s.a. Source: BLS via FRED.

Now, it may turn out eventually (after another benchmark revision the results of which will be released in February 2024) that in Q2 NFP will turn out to be lower than indicated in the CES. But for purposes of deceiving the electorate in November 2022, this seems like a lousy way of doing it.

In any case, before people start crying that the data are manipulated, I wish they would read the BLS technical notes on (1) revisions and mean absolute revisions, (2) benchmark revisions, (3) the calculation of seasonal adjustment factors, (4) the application of population controls in the CPS. Before they start citing the various series, I wish they understood the informational content (relative to business cycle fluctuations) of the CPS employment series vs. that of the CES employment series. That understanding can be obtained by reading works by people who understand the characteristics of the macro data (Furman (2016)CEA (2017)Goto et al. (2021)).

From a sociological perspective, I do wonder why conspiracy theories are so attractive to some individuals. Here’s a Scientific American article laying out some of the character traits that are associated with adherence to conspiracy theories.


20 thoughts on “Update – Data Paranoia Watch: “I’ve read that others think the CES was manipulated to provide a more rosy picture heading into the election”

  1. pgl

    ‘In any case, before people start crying that the data are manipulated, I wish they would read the BLS technical notes’

    Of course we know Princeton Steve never reads anything except his own bloviating. And he likely enjoys being compared to ”’Senator Barraso, Jack Welch, Allan West, Zerohedge, and Mick Mulvaney’.

  2. Moses Herzog

    I like watching X-File repeats, I have The Pretender DVDs I pull out every once in awhile, and enjoy very much. The tictac “UFO” sighting by the Navy fascinates me a great deal. And I am very afraid to click on and read the Scientific American article as I am afraid it might jive very well with negative personality traits I attribute to myself and “reinforce” self-hate thoughts I already have.

    But, anyways, I do appreciate the technical note links and hope to at least skim them sometimes inside this week, amongst umpty-dumpty other things I am behind on reading.

    In defense of myself, I do not buy into all conspiracy theories. Some of which PhDs had found credible. Could it be that the CES survey started out in a lab in Wuhan??
    Barkley Rosser April 13, 2020 at 2:06 pm
    “I do not know about this remark, but the current leading theory is that this did not start from somebody eating a bat (or pangolin) from a Wuhan wet market. Rather now the best evidence suggests that it came from a lab where they were trying to develop a vaccine against bat-induced illnesses, but were careless with health security.”



    One of the more humorous parts of Barkley Rosser’s arguments about the virus coming from a Wuhan lab was that it was difficult for Barkley to imagine that a bat with the virus would have crapped on other animals, and apparently the only way Barkley could imagine bat crap getting on food before/during its transport to Wuhan was if the bat had “cavorted” with seafood. [ Different animal species are often piled one on top the other in cages when transported in China, where the top caged animal defecates on a different species animal in the cage just below them. ]

    Barkley Rosser April 14, 2020 at 1:10 pm
    “…….. It is probably not from a Wuhan seafood market, long the most popular theory. Problem is we are pretty sure it is from bats (possibly pangolins), but bats were not sold at this “wet market.” If it is from there, then somehow a bat infected some animal that was there, but, as its label says, it was a seafood market, not the usual animals bats interact with…….. “


    Bias drives conspiracy theories. I think the whole basis of the Trump trade war con was invented in Shanghai with the Shanghai wing of the Chinese system we know for fact the Trump businesses have relationships with. The conspiracy goes like this: after 2017 Trump was getting criticized for not doing anything about China and liberalizing capital rules from the Obama administration with China. Something most people had missed. So we have the false flag trade war advised from Shanghai, one that would use small, meaningless changes in the price to move goods through virtual borders. Here was what the Chinese thought:25-50% tariffs sound big, but they aren’t. It’s like a .25-.5 % in price. Any company would eat that. You really need 500-1000% tariffs to effect this type of goods movement and cost increase. Team Trump and China knew this was good pr unless somebody like myself calls it out. Nobody did, you get away with it. Conspiracy theory is a way to control information. Something a certain political party doesn’t know how to do and come off as a bunch of complicit wimps.

  4. Steven Kopits

    And yet, ‘conspiracies’ sometimes prove correct. To wit, both the FBI and DOE (really, the DOE?) peg covid as coming from the Wuhan lab. I think that’s a no-brainer call, but I seem to remember some significant push-back on the idea.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Steven Kopits: If it’s a no-brainer call, why is the intelligence community (via DNI) not in consensus. And didn’t you think it was a no-brainer that multiple job holders explained the discrepancy between CES and CPS employment series?

      1. Steven Kopits

        Do you have a quote from me saying that the CES discrepancy was a no-brainer? Why would I have asked you to run the numbers if I did? Normally, I would call something a no-brainer if I find the logic overwhelming or I have run the numbers. Wuhan to me is a no-brainer. The CES discrepancy is really not of tremendous interest to me, nor was I particularly interested in making a definitive statement about potential tampering or miscalculation with the numbers, save to point out that it certainly would be on the list of potential sources of variance.

        But if you want a no-brainer, here’s one. By letting in 250,000 undocumented minors across the border and releasing 2/3 of them to people who are not their parents, the Biden administration has created an institutional framework which promotes sexual coercion. Of course, minors have enjoyed preferential access under prior administrations (following a pair of judicial rulings), but the numbers have been particularly pronounced under the Biden administration, as the NYT article reports. So, yes, I think it’s a no-brainer to think we have a serious sexual assault/ harassment / coercion situation with up to 50,000 minor Hispanic girls admitted during the Biden administration.

        1. pgl

          Good grief. Own up to your damn stupidity something. And stop wasting everyone’s time with your little whining.

  5. Steven Kopits

    Here are some things I have written recently, in which pgl may find some emotional meaning.

    The Economics and Exploitation of Undocumented Migrant Child Labor

    Washington Examiner highlights legalize-and-tax to end illegal immigration!

    This latter piece is quite important, I think. For the first time, social conservatives are coming out in favor of looking at a market-based solution. That’s a big deal, to my mind.

    1. pgl

      Do I have to repeat myself again. NO ONE wants to read your racist blog posts. Go advertise your garbage on Truth Social where people there are too stupid to know you are nothing more than a Stephen Miller wannabe.

    2. pgl

      “If a staffing agency is used, figure they take 40% of the gross”

      Where did you get this 40% BS? Have you ever looked at the financials for a publicly traded staffing company? Of course you haven’t. Maybe they get 4% but not 40%. Stevie pooh making up numbers out of his rear end as usual.

      1. Steven Kopits

        If you check the literature, the typical agency cut is 25-70%. Well, considering undocumented minors have virtually no negotiating leverage, we would expect that share to be on the high end, which is about 50%, given that the staffing agencies are involved in labor fraud both wrt to legal status and age. But maybe you think the percentage is lower? Make your case.

        The other way to think about it is the value which can be extracted from the undocumented by various intermediaries. So, let’s say a Guatemalan is willing to come work in the US for $5 / hour net of increased US expenses (net 2.5x Guatemalan unskilled wages), and that the min wage in the US is effectively $15 / hour. There’s consequently a $10 / wedge controlled by various gatekeepers, for example, cartels, coyotes, sponsors, staffing agencies and employers, among others. Moreover, undocumented immigrants have no legal recourse, so they are prime targets for victimization.

        Consequently, market forces — in the form of exploitation — will tend to bid away the wages of the undocumented until they are just above the exit wage, that is, the wage level which would cause the undocumented to return home. I think that’s $4-5 / hour, but it could be as low as $2-3 / hour for minors. Certainly, the NYT article gives that impression.

        Thus, we can take a top-down estimate starting with benchmark data and modify that for the circumstances of undocumented minors; or we can estimate the residual wages of the minors and back out the associated predation costs. That’s a bottom-up analysis. I don’t know if the particular categories are exactly right — and of course, not all minors find themselves in the same situation — but I think the overall impression is directionally correct. That is, up to 2/3 of the wages of undocumented minors are likely captured by intermediaries. That is the reality of illegal immigration.

        1. pgl

          “If you check the literature, the typical agency cut is 25-70%.”

          What literature? You cited nothing. Now maybe there is something out there that says what you claim but knowing how effing stupid you are – you are misreading what they said.

          Now you can check the 2022 10-K filing for Insperity which I accurately protrayed. Now are you trying to say their financial auditors lied? No – you are the liar. Or moron. If not both.

        2. pgl

          “If you check the literature, the typical agency cut is 25-70%.”

          BTW old incompetent wonder I did find someone claiming a 25% gross margin was reasonable but unlike I check what was included in that gross margin, which included the payment of payroll taxes and other fringe benefits. Which is what I said about the audited financials for Insperity.

          Ah Stevie – this is basic accounting which you clearly never learned. No wonder Deloitte Hungary fired their most incompetent accountant ever.

      2. pgl

        I took a look at the 2022 financial for Insperity – which is the largest staffing company in the US with $40 billion in gross billings. I did so to note how utterly STUPID any numbers from Princeton Stevie pooh are. This former Deloitte Hungary incompetent has claimed staffing companies take a 40% cut. WTF? Let’s see what a real accountant would note:

        Wages paid = $34 billion (85% of gross billings)
        Fringe benefits paid = $5 billion (12.5%)
        Gross profits = $1 billion … a mere 2.5% not Stevie’s 40%.

        Oh wait Stevie was talking about children coming from Central America. Of course their parents are not bringing them here for child labor but to escape violence, which cuts apart the entire premise of Stevie’s dumb blog posts.

        But yea there is exploitation of child labor, Is Stevie advocating staff companies exploiting these kids? Maybe. Oh wait – he wants these kids to stay in Central America. Where they are likely to be victims of violence. Is that Stevie’s hope – Latin American kids dying as their parents are given no options.

        The only thing worse than a lying incompetent accountant is someone who has no soul.

    3. pgl

      Paul Bedard? Oh yea – that guy:


      Washington Examiner columnist Paul Bedard calls himself “Washington Secrets guy” in his Twitter bio, his publication claims he “knows and writes about Washington DC like no one else,” and his LinkedIn states, “Always on the hunt for new Washington Secrets” — but when it comes to investigating President Donald Trump‘s EPA, Bedard isn’t too keen on reporters discovering secrets. The conservative columnist wrote an Examiner piece claiming reporters “critical” of Trump’s EPA are filing Freedom of Information Act requests at an excessive rate — his implication being that these information requests show a media bias against the Republican president. Bedard even pounced on a number of these FOIA requests by knocking them as “poorly focused and broad.” “Critics have assailed some actions by Trump’s EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt and many FOIA’s seek emails on their decisions,” wrote Bedard, justifying his suggestion of unfair media coverage against Trump. He also tagged the Associated Press for asking that their information request come free of charge — but, as every reporter who has filed a FOIA knows, it is common practice to ask that FOIA requests come free of charge, due to the public interest factor.

      Come on Stevie – can you find a more repugnant ally? Of course anyone who thinks the only reason minors leave Central America is to find US jobs must be unaware that their parents are protecting their kids from violence. Child migration is not a labor economics issue unless one is a good buddy of the likes of Bedard.

      1. Moses Herzog

        Of course people like BlueStatesResidentKopits and know-nothing Paul Bedard dislike Associated Press. The same reason they hate NYT~~because AP and NYT have real journalists employed there, and not people like George Hill, Stephen Friend, and Garrett O’Boyle who were payed by donald trump crony Kash Patel to give false testimony to Congress, and then after being paid to lie to Congress still couldn’t make any of their claims stick:

        “In a statement, Patel declined to confirm that he has provided financial support to the witnesses”

        Maybe BlueStatesResidentKopits can send Bedard a cool $5,000. Then Paul Bedard can at least make some real money for being a bullhorn for policy flunky lies in the public arena.

  6. Ivan

    If your narratives don’t hold up to reality, you can always trot out a conspiracy as a counter to the inconvenient truth. If you are a real coward you can hide it under “I have read that others think” – so you can state it but don’t have to try and defend it or soil you reputation with it.

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