Is Ignorance Bliss?

After approving one of the largest budget-busting bills in U. S. history (Health Care Reform), the Obama administrations has decided to save money by eliminating the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ International Labor Comparison Program in the Fiscal 2011 Federal budget.

This program provides estimates of international comparisons to equivalent U. S. hourly compensations costs, productivity and labor costs, labor force, employment and unemployment rates, and consumer prices.  This data series is the only one of its kind in the world and has been in operation since the 1960s.  The measly two million dollars saved would be used to fund other BLS programs, such as the unemployment rate or Consumer Price Index.

The justification in the “Terminations, Reductions, and Savings” is that “the data series is used to produce articles, technical papers, or special reports that are not widely used,” which is in direct contradiction to the justification for funding the program in the 2010 budget; i.e., “policy makers through the U. S. government and U. S. business and labor groups who use the data to assess     U. S. economic performance relative to other countries and to provide indicators of the competitive position of the United States in increasingly globalized markets.”

The 2010 Edition has pages and pages of easy to read charts showing data such as industry output as a percent of world industry output in which the United States contribution is 18 percent compared to China’s 12 percent.  The United States still ranked number one in manufacturing output as a percent of world manufacturing output in 2008.  The United States ranked highest in productivity as measured by Gross Domestic Product per employed person at 97.1 compared to China’s rate of 10.2.   India ranked lowest at 7.5

For the first time, the 2010 Edition of Charting International Labor Comparisons included China in its annual series of labor costs based on a 106-page report by Dr. Judith Banister that was commissioned by BLS.   China’s average total compensation for all workers was estimated to be 67 cents per hour in 2007 or about three percent of the average hourly compensation of manufacturing production workers in the United States.   Ten of the 12 European countries, as well as Australia and Canada, had higher hourly compensation than the United States.

Perhaps the Obama administration doesn’t want business and labor groups to have access to data they could use to make decisions on trade policy issues or use to criticize current trade policies.  In the February 12, 2010 issue of Manufacturing & Technology News, retired federal economist, David Martin, commented, “The BLS International Labor Comparisons Office has been documenting global economic change that some people would apparently prefer that we not know about, whether we believe in it or not.  The three-word [Obama] campaign slogan of ‘Yes, we can,’ it would seem, is to be replaced with an older three-word saying, ‘ignorance is bliss.’”

The two largest manufacturing trade associations, the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI, and the National Association of Manufacturers, have requested the Secretary of Labor and director of the Office of Management and Budget to reinstate the $2 million in funding this program.

If you want to join the effort to reinstate funding for this important program, you can sign the online petition started by Georgetown Public Policy Institute at

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