Monday Links: Bad Stats, TBTF, “Less with Less”

The New York Times reports that “A widening gap between data and reality is distorting the government’s picture of the country’s economic health, overstating growth and productivity in ways that could affect the political debate on issues like trade, wages and job creation.” It says economists are trying to fix that. This is no good:

A carburetor bought for $50 in China as a component of an American-made car, for example, more often than not shows up in the statistics as if it were the American-made version valued at, say, $100. The failure to distinguish adequately between what is made in America and what is made abroad falsely inflates the gross domestic product, which sums up all value added within the country.

American workers lose their jobs when carburetors they once made are imported instead. The federal data notices the decline in employment but fails to revalue the carburetors or even pinpoint that they are foreign-made. Because it seems as if $100 carburetors are being produced but fewer workers are needed to do so, productivity falsely rises — in the national statistics.

It strikes me that this is an important story deserving better than inside play, and there’s a whole passel of them to be done on faulty government statistics (see More, please.

The Journal says Democrats in Congress actually getting serious on too big to fail and even what appears to be some sort of reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall separation of trading and banking. It also reports that the financial lobby is nervous about the backlash, as is the Obama administration. Thank the WSJ for not calling this a “populist” something or other.

Nieman Journalism Lab has the transcript of New York Times editor Bill Keller admirably telling the truth instead of resorting to manager-speak in talking to the newsroom about looming layoffs. “‘The idea that you can do ‘more with less‘ is, in my view, one of the four great lies,’ Keller told his staff. ‘What you can do with less, is less.’” Dean Starkman noticed Fortune figuring out the same thing a couple of weeks ago.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.