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Inflation is 12%
Economics, The Dismal Science

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Lies, Damn Lies and Government Inflation Statistics

Kevin Phillips, July 17, 2008

Published in the Huffington Post, at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-phillips/lies-damn-lies-and-govern_b_113277.html

Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist, has been a political and economic commentator for more than three decades. A former White House strategist, he has been a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio and has written for Harper's and TIME. His 13 books include the New York Times bestsellers American Theocracy and American Dynasty. He lives in Connecticut.

Describing the decade that began in 2000 as the "naughties" or "oughties" offers a useful shorthand -- and particularly for people interested in discussing the U.S. economy's perilous dual pathway of rising commodity inflation coupled with financial assets deflation.
Ought and naught, of course, are two old-fashioned ways of saying "nothing" or "zero," appropriate for a painful decade that stretches from ought-one and ought-two to ought-nine.
But the term's negativism is also appropriate. As financial economists have begun to point out, between 2000 and mid-July 2008, the leading stock market yardstick, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, dropped from a 2000 peak of 11,700 to a level 500-700 points lower. Moreover, allowing for eight years worth of inflation, by official data, the decline was nearer 25%, making the real return much worse than "naught." This is what people have to watch in a stagflationary economy, which the new Consumer Price Index numbers (June's one-month increase of 1.1 percent) have finally started to admit.
The possibility that inflation could even reach double digits should start to resolve today's central debate: whether this decade's unhappy U.S. economy is more like that of the depression 1930s or that of the stagflationary 1970s. Alas, there are elements of both.
To begin with, even the national media agree that home prices are in their biggest nationwide decline since the 1930s. Also, last month's slump in the Dow-Jones Industrial Average was the biggest June slide since the early depression year of 1930. And depending on who you talk to, the financial crisis is either the biggest since World War Two or the biggest since the 1930s.
Yet there is also escalating resemblance to the 1970s, when a global food and energy price surge followed the loose fiscal policy and boom of the Vietnam war era. No such trend existed in the 1930s. However, especially since 9/11 and then the invasion of Iraq, our decade has also seen has that kind of easy money and loose fiscal policy. As a result, global food and energy prices have been soaring.
The just-released inflation numbers suggest a gruesome possibility. Our own decade, like the years from 1966 to 1982, could see another severe economic downturn and stock market slump, but one partially camouflaged by fast-rising prices. Here is the precedent: between a Dow-Jones (intra-day) peak of 1000 in early 1966 and an August 1982 bottom of some 780, the Dow declined a nominal 22%. However, a truer calculation, adjusting for soaring inflation, put the real decline close to 70 percent -- a disguised disaster.
Could it happen again? Maybe. It is possible to imagine somewhat similar economic terrain. In 2010 or 2012, the Dow-Jones could easily be at 10,500 or 11,500, for a seemingly small ten-year or twelve year decline. But if simultaneous inflation has totaled some 30 percent, then the real decline would be 30-40% -- major league erosion, in other words.
And there is a worse possibility -- that the changed Consumer Price Index measurements in place since the 1990s have significantly underestimated inflation, and the true damage has already been much deeper. Why would Washington allow this, you might ask. The answer: that because a large chunk of the federal budget rises with inflation, the savings from understating it are enormous, however unfair to retirees and workers.
We are not talking small numbers. With global inflation heating up, the investment firm of Morgan Stanley recently noted that "The percentage of the world's population living under double-digit inflation is 42 percent. Six out of the ten most populous countries have inflation running at more than 10 percent."
Bill Gross of California-based PIMCO, the world's biggest bond manager, tells investors that interest rates on U.S. Treasury notes are inadequate. Inflation around the globe has averaged nearly 7 percent over the past decade, but the official U.S. inflation rate has averaged 2.6 percent. "Does it make any sense," says Gross, "that we have a 3 percent to 4 percent lower rate of inflation than the rest of the world?" And if Washington understates inflation by one percent, he adds, then gross domestic product has been overstated by that same amount. ("U.S. Inflation understated, Pimco's Gross says," MarketWatch, May 22, 2008)
Nor is Gross alone. In May, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker told the Congressional Joint Economic Committee that "I think there's a lot more inflation than in those [CPI] figures." He said that the sharp run-up in housing before the recent implosion wasn't reflected in CPI data, adding that food and energy prices should not be excluded in gauging long-term trends. And when prices do go up, he said, government calculators are "much more inclined to say that there are improvements in quality" rather than an increase in inflation.
At Charles Schwab & Company, one of the nation's biggest money managers, chief economist Liz Ann Sonders wrote in June that "Over the past 30 years, major changes have been made to the calculation of the CPI due to "re-selection and reclassification of areas, items and outlets, [and] to the development of new systems for data collection and processing," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you eliminate those adjustments and calculate CPI as it would have been calculated in 1980, it would be nearly 12 percent today...No wonder clients constantly tell me they distrust government inflation data." ("Back to the 1970s?" Charles Schwab Investing Insights, June 19, 2008)
Cynics will point out that rigged data and sneaky book-keeping are par for the course in American finance. However, the accusations implicit in the Volcker, Gross and Sanders comments suggest a government scandal of the first magnitude. Maybe our presidential candidates should take a break from discussing how many troops to move from Iraq to Afghanistan or vice versa and start publicly discussing the extent to which a fundamental mismanagement of the U.S. economy rests on a framework of what can bluntly be described as lies, damn lies and statistics.
Author and commentator Kevin Phillips' most recent book is Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, published by Viking in April.

John Williams, an economist maintains a subscriber site ($175/year) which provides far more accurate figures on the economy.  He has also provided free a couple of introductory articles.  He has confirmed the 12% rate, and has chronicled the changes in the CPI

Washington’s Great “No Inflation” Hoax

Kevin Phillips, May 8, 2008
For the complete article:

{The consumer price index has been described in Bloomber News by John Wasik as “a testament to the art of economic spin.”} The subject of this scorn is the federal government's vaunted Consumer Price Index or CPI. Americans are now beginning to understand that this indicator has its own share of gimmicks not unlike a sub-prime mortgage or the six pages of fine print that accompanies your credit card agreement.
Some of these CPI ingredients -- product substitution weightings, "hedonics" (price reductions for added product quality or satisfaction), and use of owner's equivalent rent (instead of home ownership costs) -- have a comic aspect suitable to mockery by Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart. But in a larger sense, they're not remotely funny. That's because the federal minimalization and misrepresentation of inflation, pursued statistically over the last 25 years, has been the main buttress of Washington's over-favorable and self-serving portraiture of the U.S. economy.
Distortions aplenty have followed. Some of the most pernicious include the shortchanging of federal pension and Social Security obligations and cost of living increases, a parallel shortchanging of cost-of-living increases in wage contracts tied to the federal CPI, the suppression of equitable interest payments on bank accounts and certificates of deposit, and the camouflaging of weak U.S. economic growth through inadequate adjustments for inflation. The benefits to the executive branch in Washington jump out -- huge annual federal savings on Social Security and pension outlays, as well as on the amount of interest paid on the federal government's multi-trillion-dollar debt. Some $250 billion a year could be involved.
If many individuals are losers, many businesses and financial institutions have been winners. Minimal cost-of-living increases favor corporations, while low interest rates make money cheaper to the financial sector. In particular, the gargantuan $10 trillion increase in financial-sector debt since 1994 could become unmanageable if mounting inflation forced borrowing costs up to 8% or 9%. And it is axiomatic regarding equities that when rates rise in the bond market, that competition usually undercuts stock market values.
…. Oil is up over 80 percent in the last twelve months. The New York Times' consumer reporter, W.P. Dunleavy, wrote on May 3 that his own groceries now cost $587 a month, up from $400 a year earlier. That's a 40 percent increase. Reports in the financial press make frequent reference to foreign investors who distrust the U.S. dollar because they calculate true U.S. inflation at 6% to 9% including food and energy. {U.S. official numbers are under 3%}…. Washington's official estimates that the economy still grew at a rate of some 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008 become nonsense. Subtracting a 6-9 percent inflation rate from nominal GDP growth would identify an economy that was deteriorating and shrinking, not growing. {RECESSION} Concerned foreign dollar-holders would become even more concerned.

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Neoliberals have cooped democracy, and at the head of this is the financial community.  Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric, the system is about profits.  It aint the words or legislation, but actions which reveals the shadow government.  As Aristotle observed:  “A democracy exists whenever those who are free and poor are in sovereign control of the government:  an oligarchy when the control lies in the hands of the rich and better born.

For the best account of the Federal Reserve  (http://www.freedocumentaries.org/film.php?id=214).  One cannot understand U.S. politics, U.S. foreign policy, or the world-wide economic crisis unless one understands the role of the Federal Reserve Bank and its role in the financialization phenomena.  The same sort of national-banking relationships as in our country also exists in Japan and most of Europe. 


These International bankers and Rockefeller-Standard Oil interests control the majority of newspapers and the columns of these papers to club into submission or rive out of public office officials who refuse to do the bidding of the powerful corrupt cliques which compose the invisible government -- Theodore Roosevelt, New York Times, March 27, 1922

Teddy Roosevelt's advice that, "We must drive the special interests out of politics. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being. There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains."