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Obama Trumped Trump

Summary:
One of the great things about blogging is the frequent times one learns from commenters. The Trump tweet on the unemployment rate is a case in point. When I posted about it, I thought, naively, as did co-blogger Scott Sumner, that Donald Trump had set a precedent by revealing something about the unemployment numbers before they were officially announced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wrong! It turns out, according to commenter Viking, that President Obama did it also, and not on Twitter where everyone following him on Twitter had the same access, but to a select group of people of his own party. There are two other important differences. First, Obama did it many hours, not just 69 minutes, before

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One of the great things about blogging is the frequent times one learns from commenters. The Trump tweet on the unemployment rate is a case in point.

When I posted about it, I thought, naively, as did co-blogger Scott Sumner, that Donald Trump had set a precedent by revealing something about the unemployment numbers before they were officially announced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wrong!

It turns out, according to commenter Viking, that President Obama did it also, and not on Twitter where everyone following him on Twitter had the same access, but to a select group of people of his own party. There are two other important differences. First, Obama did it many hours, not just 69 minutes, before the data came out. Second, he gave more information about the data than Trump did.

Here''s the link to the Wall Street Journal story about Obama's leaks to a favored audience. And because the Journal is gated, here are some highlights:

While disclosures of economic data are rare, they aren't unprecedented. In February 2009, with the U.S. economy in crisis and Congress debating a stimulus package, then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) heard from Mr. Obama around midnight that the following morning's jobs report numbers "would be somewhat scary," he told the Senate after the report's release. The Labor Department reported a loss of 598,000 jobs in January.

Former Obama administration economist Larry Summers got all huffy about Trump's tweet, saying, with his own tweet:
If during the Clinton or Obama Administrations there had been a statement from @POTUS or anyone senior official in the morning before the Employment Report it would have been a major scandal--with all sorts of investigations following on.

We now know that's false. There was no such investigation of Obama and little talk, if any at all, about a scandal.

Now, Scott Sumner and I can, I think, be forgiven for not knowing about this history. I'm pretty sure that he, and I know I, don't follow the D.C. machinations daily.

But Larry Summers has no such excuse. He was actually a high-level Obama administration economics official when Obama gave advance notice of the numbers. We might ask "What did Larry Summers know and when did he know it?" But we pretty much know the answer to that question. Larry must have known that Obama had done this. He, unlike Scott and I, has no excuse.



David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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