President Donald Trump’s propensity to play fast and loose with facts is now worrying American economists and they are concerned his administration is doctoring government data.
As Trump continues his attacks on the media by calling reports on his lies “fake news” and championing “alternative facts,” numbers experts are warning that his administration is cooking the books of the American economy.
With Republicans eager to slash the federal budget, rather than fix the problems the economy has, the trump administration is “trying to get the numbers it wants,” noted Brent Moulton, who spent 32 years at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, according to Daily Mail.
“My biggest concern right now is about the unemployment statistics, just because the White House has been attacking them,” he added.
University of Oregon professor Mark Thoma said Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ mantra is already spreading to the data needed to keep the economy in check, Bloomberg wrote.
Most presidential teams start with a baseline forecast and then calculate how their policies would either increase or decrease the growth rate. Trump is instead starting with the outcome he wants, and then having officials make the numbers work to get the economy there.
When other administrations have come up with rosier pictures than the baseline estimates, it has usually been by a difference of a fraction of a percentage point. The Trump team, however, is calling for 3–3.5 percent annual GDP growth. That’s at least a whole percentage point above the consensus projection.
But the economy’s rate of growth is not the only place where the Trump team is reportedly thinking of fudging the numbers. The Wall Street Journal also reports that the administration has asked career economists to make a change in the way the trade deficit is calculated.
Artificially boosting the trade deficit would play into Trump’s hands, giving him more firepower when railing against trade deals or calling for border taxes.
One person the Journal spoke to who had participated in past budget processes said he had “never seen a request to make such aggressive assumptions about growth.”
“The worst thing he could do – and I see this as a real danger – would be to politicize the agencies that produce government economic data, to put people in place that will skew the numbers in his favor,” professor Thoma said according to the report.