Who needs data?

Noah Smith of Bloomberg View reports on this defunding of the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The BLS is one of the most important economic data-gathering agencies in the U.S.

Employment numbers? Inflation statistics? Those all come from surveys run by the BLS.

Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Congress is allowing the bureau to wither on the vine, and there are signs it will get worse. During the past five years, funding has stagnated as inflation has risen, meaning that in real terms the agency’s budget has fallen by 10 percent. Now the Senate is proposing to cut funding by about 4 percent more, in real terms, this year.

This is a dangerous game. The rewards from cutting BLS funding are minuscule. The proposed cut will save only $13 million a year, or about 0.002 percent of the federal discretionary budget. For comparison, this is about equivalent to the average household saving roughly $1 a year. It is nothing, nada. Not even a drop in the bucket.

It’s meaningless for the federal budget, but damaging to the BLS budget.

But these tiny funding cuts are already having a huge effect on the agency’s ability to tell us what’s going on with the economy. In 2014, the BLS was forced to cut back on one of its major programs, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. It almost had to slash another program that gathers data on imports and exports.

Cutting these and other BLS surveys would be like blinding ourselves intentionally. It is because of BLS programs that we know whether the economy is stagnant or recovering, whether the trade deficit is shrinking or growing, whether Americans are getting jobs or losing them.

How else are we supposed to know those things? Guessing? Looking out the window? Swapping stories? Going to church?

[T]he BLS reductions are part of two dismaying trends in our legislative priorities — cuts to research funding, and a disregard for the importance of social science. In the case of the BLS, it would be a mistake to further hobble an agency that does so much to aid our very understanding of the economy around us.

Don’t worry, God will provide.

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