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Governing by the Numbers

Governing by the Numbers

For the Biden administration, good numbers are always better than bad numbers

If you scroll through the Twitter feeds of President Joe Biden or his Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, you'll see lots of numbers. Numbers of every shape and size — big ($3 trillion) and small (0) and of all shapes and sizes. There are graphs and animated infographics pitting historical presidential candidates against one another on stats like "jobs created in the first nine months of a presidency". Biden, of course, always comes out on top.

The implicit tone in all of these "numbers" is that things are actually good. Or, put differently and depending on present company, they are better than they would've been under Donald Trump. It will never be possible for us to know whether that is objectively true or not and it's likely that, years from now, historians will have bitter arguments about how the pandemic would've played out under Trump. But, clinging as we are to the present, let's look at what exactly Biden and Klain claim.

A week ago, Biden tweeted out a cute little table that compared some numbers from November 2020 year to some numbers a year later in November 2021, under his Presidency:

  • Unemployment
  • % Vaccinated
  • People Employed
  • Total Retail Sales

I could show you the numbers, but there's no point. The table shows that under Biden, sales are higher, suffering is lower, and everyone is safer.

Governance by the numbers, if you will. Word is that they're making little books you can buy for your kids that prepare them to be leaders of the free world. All you have to do is a point to a number and say "good" or "bad" then issue directives to get each respective number up or down with varying degrees of urgency.


If you can remember as far back as a year ago when lockdowns and onerous restrictions still plagued the nation, unemployment was higher because of said restrictions. Since things have slackened, unemployment has, of course, sunk. But, that does not account for the labor force participation rate (LFPR) which might be a more accurate measure given the tidal shift that's rocked the world since March of 2020.

The LFPR measures the percent of the population over the age of 16 who is either employed or seeking employment. It does not account for folks in retirement homes, military, or mental hospitals and, most importantly, it does not account for people who are not actively seeking work.

Prior to the pandemic, the LFPR was 63.3%. Since then, it has not risen back to pre-pandemic levels and sank as low as 60.2% in April of 2020. At present, it sits at 61.8%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there were approximately 261 million people considered fit for work in November 2021. Of these 261 million, nearly 100 million people are not actively seeking work.


This doesn't even bear elaboration because the vaccines weren't even available in November of 2020. Not to mention, the availability of them is largely thanks to Trump's Operation Warp Speed. But still, new number better than old number so, "See, we're doing a good job!"


Just a rehash of the unemployment number. I guess staffers couldn't find another old-number-bad-new-number-good pairing to add here because this doesn't tell us anything that unemployment doesn't except to say, "Look, our number is higher."


So, are we to understand that the Biden administration is somehow responsible for people spending more on Amazon? Is there a moralizing dimension to this number? Since Biden has taken office, the morale of the nation has been so good that people are spending money like they used to? Left unmentioned, of course, is what effect, if any, inflation may have on these numbers. But hey, number go up! Old number bad, so what else do they need to say? See, it's working!

This all can be best summed up by Biden's recent appearance on Jimmy Fallon to shill for the Build Back Better Bruise wherein Fallon, in his affable, awe-shucks kind of way, asked the President if he paid attention to approval ratings. Biden replied, "I was paying attention when they were in the mid-60s, but now that they’re in the 40s, I don't pay attention." Governance by the numbers.