Political Animal


July 08, 2011 2:45 PM Post hoc ergo propter hoc

By Steve Benen

There’s a fair amount of talk today about who’s to blame for the weakening job market. It got me thinking about how Republicans play this game.

When the jobs reports were looking quite good in the early spring, Republican leaders were eager to take credit for the positive numbers they had nothing to do with. Needless to say, GOP officials are no longer claiming responsibility, and are in fact now eager to point fingers everywhere else. It’s a nice little scam Republicans have put together: when more jobs are being created, it’s proof they’re right; when fewer jobs are being created, it’s proof Obama’s wrong. Heads they win; tails Dems lose.

With this in mind, let’s consider the recent developments the way a Republican would. Here’s a chart showing private-sector job creation in the latter half of 2010, when stimulus money was still being spent, and when Democrats enjoyed the congressional majority.

And here’s a chart showing private-sector job creation so far in 2011, after stimulus spending largely ended, Republicans took control of the U.S. House and most of the nation’s gubernatorial offices, and the national discourse pivoted from jobs to the deficit and debt.

Now, I know full well that the job market isn’t weak because of GOP gains, and I also know better than to make a post hoc ergo propter hoc mistake.

But I do take some enjoyment from looking at these developments as a Republican would. Indeed, Mitt Romney likes to talk all about who “made things worse.”

So, you tell me. Were we on track before Republicans gains or after?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • KC on July 08, 2011 3:00 PM:

    Nobody cares.

  • jonas on July 08, 2011 3:07 PM:

    Clearly the improving job situation in early 2010 was a lagging indicator of the success of the Republican majority between 2001 and 2006. In 2011 now, we begin to see employers pulling back after Barack Obama's election in 2008. So it all makes sense, you see. Kind of like the budget surpluses under Clinton were thanks to Reagan.

  • just bill on July 08, 2011 3:09 PM:

    isn't it a bit misleading to use different scales on the two 'x' axes?

  • T2 on July 08, 2011 3:11 PM:

    Look at FOX and you'll likely see the same charts, but with the Party label switched.

    But, sadly, I tend to agree with KC. The general public knows what 9.2% unemployment means, and they know who the President is. To most people Mitch McConnell is just some funny looking goof that yaps away on Sunday morning TV.

  • The Way Seer on July 08, 2011 3:12 PM:

    Please go to: www.wayseermanifesto.com. If you dare...Are you willing to send it Viral?

  • Gridlock on July 08, 2011 3:18 PM:

    T2 - I totally agree about the general public's take on the economy. Also, they believe that cutting spending will somehow improve the economy instead of hurt it.

    Here's an idea, why don't the Dems propose a "balanced employment" amendment. If the U.S. population is not at full employment(unemployment rate under 4%), then corporate America sees their tax rates go up. If America is at full employment then corporate tax rates can come down. It's all about the supply side anyway, right? Plus it would stop the outsourcing and bring jobs back to this country.

  • Anna M Shepard on July 08, 2011 3:27 PM:


  • Anna M Shepard on July 08, 2011 3:32 PM:

    Graphs are wonderful tools, aren't they! There is no doubt that America & American Jobs have grown under President Obama's Administration. AND they have really achieved so much more than that.
    Unfortunately; all do not see or hear about this, because they reside in an area that only airs Fox News & Affiliates' Reportings.
    It is up to the rest of us to spread the 'truth' to those who do not get the real facts. We must stand united & Fight for the Rights of All People!
    To quote President Obama "Yes We Can Win The Future & Move America Forward!"

  • Todd for VT House on July 08, 2011 3:37 PM:

    All the Dems have to do to win is put this on bumperstickers: are you better off than you were before the GOP banned abortion?

    Or something.


  • Prup (aka Jim Benton) on July 08, 2011 3:45 PM:

    Remember, the problem in 'post hoc, ergo propter hoc' is in the ergo. 'Propter hoc, ergo post hoc' is pretty generally true -- effects follow causes.

    In this case, I don't believe you are stating a fallacy at all. I think the slowdown in the economy is the direct result of electing Republicans -- only not so much on the national level as on the state level. (In fact, in other venues ever since the election I have been predicting a major tanking of the economy, to possibly the point of a Depression 2.1 that would be worse than the Bush-caused Depression 2.0.)

    Every state is going through a contraction in government spending caused by a refusal to repeal unwarranted tax breaks, etc. This has not just reduced the number of actual government employees. It has impacted firms doing consulting, firms selling the government everythibg from cars to paper clips, as well as the usual ripple effects -- grocers whose customers were state employees are making less, meaning they are letting a couple of stock clerks go, doctors providing 'wellness' services like preventive medicine aren't being paid, so fewer people are using them, etc.

    And, because of safety net cuts, the unemployed have even less money to spend, so the ripple effects are magnified -- and tend to be more so in neighborhoods that are already suffering economically. (When people in 'gated communities' become unemployed, they usually have reserves to tide them over for at least a period before their unemployment impacts on others. A government clerk or teacher or policeman feels his unemployment at once.)

    The trouble is that people don't look at the states until a crisis like WI or MN hits. You at least have an excuse, your job requires such reading of the 'nationals' that it would be inhuman to expect you to cover the states as well. It is the nationals who attempt to discuss what is happening from their perspective high above the fray -- sadly frequently reminding me of someone trying to broadcast a baseball game from the Goodyear blimp. Yes, you see a few patterns from above you can't get from field level -- but you lose almost every crucial detail.

  • bardgal on July 08, 2011 4:41 PM:

    GOP House has voted NO on 10 Dem jobs bills, and has yet to introduce ONE. http://t.co/V45HlVc #GOPFAIL

  • Deb from MN on July 08, 2011 5:14 PM:

    I don't see that big of a difference to be honest. The average number for each month is 115,000 in either the GOP of the Dem chart. Job growth is not as dependent on government as the GOP wants you think anyway. What I see is that we have so totally divided as a country that this is the way we try to hold politicians accountable.

    It's a far more simple measure: are you a politician that works toward a middle ground or are you a politician who signs off on pledges and other rubbish, just looking to be re-elected and maintain party money.

  • ameita on July 08, 2011 8:24 PM:

    Thanks for always bringing the facts. Those graphs are almost too simple; you think folks will understand them?

  • Texas Aggie on July 08, 2011 10:57 PM:

    While it's true that the graphs should have the same scale on the Y axis, the message is the direction of the change, and that isn't affected by the scale.

    The cause, however, for the fall in new jobs is quite likely because the stimulus money has run out and is not being replaced, and that is because republicans were elected. So it is true that electing republicans indirectly is responsible for the dismal job growth. Thanks all you TP's for your good work. It is so ironic that the people you elected are trying to destroy Social Security which is a major source of income for many if not most of you. I'm just sorry that your congresscritters will grandfather SS so that the TP's don't have to suffer, just your kids. But TP's are rugged individualists and don't care about their kids (or anyone else, for that matter).

  • Storm on July 09, 2011 11:39 AM:

    I am wondering where all fruit flies came from to read this street rag...well it does not matter as most think they are liberal when tha actually are comminists.
    And of cours with the Dimi-rats it is all Bushkins fault...after all the real unemployed meant is over 16% now and they were what during GW's reign....you Dims need to look but do you know where to look...I have serious doubts as you take your marching orders from Georgy Schwartz...oh I am so sorry you know him as George Soros...LOL

  • Matt C on July 11, 2011 2:45 PM:

    Is this a serious post? Did you even read the graphs, or do the math?

    First, like a poster mentioned, you have vastly different x-scales on both graphs. This matters. It's data presentation 101 rule not to do that, but alas you are a journalist so I shouldn't expect proper techniques to get in the way of your talking points.

    Second - the graphs are horrible. Please have the creator add numbers on the top of the bars so you can tell how "tall" each bar is.

    Third - and most important... by my back-of-the envelope calculation, the blue bars add up to something like 850K. The red bars add up to about 910K. There are 8 months on the blue chart and 6 on the red. Basic elementary math suggests that the average job creation is much higher on the red chart.

  • TA on July 11, 2011 3:59 PM:

    I was hoping that in 2011, political discussion would be a more sophisticated than this.

  • Calling BS on July 11, 2011 4:00 PM:

    It would be great if you could get these graphs fixed. The trend may be real, but the strength of the correlation is the real point.

  • wpm on July 11, 2011 4:53 PM:

    People are misstating the problems with the chart. The numeric values shown are on the Y axis. The problem on the horizontal, or X axis, is that there are no labels at all.

  • will on July 11, 2011 8:38 PM:

    here's a link showing the full time series on the same axes (data reproduced by eye from charts above)


  • Fitz Tobietied on July 13, 2011 8:57 AM:

    I can see how this might be confusing. More data on at least one axis please. Or overlap, juxtipose properly.
    Oh, and I'm not trying to buy lots of concert tickets through an autodial/spam deal, so fuck you and your security words!!

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  • Krista on November 28, 2011 6:15 PM:

    this is def a post hoc ergo propter hoc... THANKS!!!