By Michael Barone -
An economist serving on a second-term president's Council of Economic Advisers might expect to weigh in on fundamental issues, restructuring the tax system or making entitlement programs sustainable over the long term. Barack Obama once talked of addressing such issues, and Republican leaders such as House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp are doing so.
But that's not what University of Michigan economist and CEA member Betsey Stevenson finds herself doing. Instead, she is defending the use of misleading statistics in support of legislation addressing a minor problem.
The legislation is Obama's latest pay equity measure, which failed to pass in the Senate last week. The misleading statistic is 77 cents, cited repeatedly by Obama as the amount women earn for every dollar earned by men.
When challenged on this by MSNBC's Irin Cannon, Stevenson admitted that the 77 cents figure is misleading. "If I said that 77 cents was equal pay for equal work, then I completely misspoke," she admitted.
"There are a lot of things that go into that 77 cents figure," she went on. "There are a lot of things that contribute, and no one's trying to say that it's all about discrimination, but I don't think there's a better figure."
Of course some people are trying to say that "it's all about discrimination"--starting with Stevenson's boss, President Obama, and including the political ad-makers preparing to cut 30-second spots accusing Republicans of a "war on women."
So Stevenson is fibbing about that. And when she says, "there are a lot of things that contribute" to male-female earnings disparities, she is indicating that she understands the weakness of using the 77 cents number.