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Bernanke says CPI & PCE Overstate Inflation

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  • Bernanke says CPI & PCE Overstate Inflation

    Read all about it here:

    That's the kind of note that makes me want to own anything other than dollars...

  • #2
    Government lies.


    • #3
      hedonic adjustments and geometric weighting are the most obvious distortions in the cpi calculations. for example, health care, notable for major price increases in recent years, is 14% of gnp but only 7% of cpi. computers are ever cheaper, but quality [i.e. computational capacity] grows so that each computer is treated as if it should cost much, much more, so computer technology changes drive down the cpi. if the price of steak goes up, it is assumed you substitute chicken. and if the price of that goes up, i suppose you can go to dogfood.

      there is a service, at the website below, that calculates cpi on the historic, pre-Clinton administration basis.

      a summary:

      Walter J. (John) Williams, has a B.A. in Economics and an M.B.A., both from Dartmouth. He serves as an economic consultant, both to private individuals and Fortune 500 companies.

      What Williams does (and few others bother to do) is read the fine print. The government "is very honest in terms of disclosing what it does. It always footnotes the changes and provides all the fine details." It is in those details--no surprise--that the devil lies.

      "What has happened over time," Williams says, "is that the methodologies employed to create the widely followed series, such as ... the GDP, the CPI, the employment numbers, all have had biases built into them that result in overstating economic growth and understating inflation."

      "Real unemployment right now--figured the way that the average person thinks of unemployment, meaning figured the way it was estimated back during the Great Depression--is running about 12%. Real CPI right now is running at about 8%. And the real GDP is probably in contraction. I venture that if you talked about those numbers now with the average person, they would say that they seem reasonable ... my work shows that the economic perceptions of non-professionals actually have some real validity; there are in fact reasons for the disconnect between official statistics and what the populace is feeling."

      According to Williams, government realized as long ago as the Kennedy administration that Americans would rather hear good news even if it's false, and so the manipulation of data began. Unemployment was easy. First they created the "discouraged worker" category (those who've given up on finding a job) and counted them separately. Then, under Clinton, they quit counting them at all. Upwards of five million out-of-work people were suddenly no longer "unemployed."

      Consumer Price Index? Since Jimmy Carter, every administration has messed with it. In order to make it look decent, Alan Greenspan and Michael Boskin, former head of the Council of Economic Advisors, came up with the "substitution" concept. Williams: "The whole purpose of the CPI [was] to measure the change in the cost of a fixed basket of goods over time ... What Boskin and Greenspan argued was, 'We should allow for substitution because people can buy hamburger instead of steak when steak goes up.' The problem is that if you allow substitutions, you aren't measuring a constant standard of living. You're measuring the cost of survival."

      Who gets squeezed by this? Fixed-income people. "The difference that it makes is significant: if the same CPI were used today as [under Carter], Social Security checks would be 70% higher."

      An adjunct to substitution is "weighting," adopted under Clinton, whereby the Bureau of Labor Statistics changed from a straightforward arithmetic to a reality-challenged geometric method, a move Williams calls "a pure mathematical game." The gist of the change is this: now, if something goes up in price, it gets a lower weighting in the CPI, and vice versa. Voilą. Down comes inflation.

      There's also hedonics. Simply summarized, this means that if a product is "improved," then it is deemed to have come down in price, even if you're paying more for it.

      Gross Domestic Product? "If you adjust the real GDP numbers that the government releases for the myriad revisions and redefinitions that have been applied to the measure with increasing frequency since the mid-1980s, you find that there's a happy overstatement of growth of about 3% on a year-over-year basis ... it's important to realize that if inflation is understated, then reported 'real' growth will be overstated."

      Yet "manipulations of the CPI ... pale next to the impact of imputations in the GDP." Talk about insidious. To the government, "[any] benefit a person receives has an imputed income component." Thus, for example, if you're a homeowner, forget that backbreaking monthly mortgage payment, you're considered to be paying yourself rental income on your home! No kidding. It's called "imputed interest income," and it's the fastest-growing segment of citizens' personal income.

      Not only does this phantom cash jack up GDP, it also inflates average household income, which is actually dropping. This we can all see in the explosion of personal debt because, as Williams says, "without growth in income you just can't support growth in personal consumption on a healthy basis, so you do it on an unhealthy basis. You borrow money."

      Just like the government.

      And while the amount the government admits it is borrowing may look horrifying enough, the reality is far, far worse. What follows is not for the faint of heart.

      Williams says that the feds take a stab at reporting their accounts according to "generally accepted accounting principles," or GAAP. Although the numbers include "all sorts of disclaimers," and exclude Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and similar accounts, "They at least do put out a financial statement. It's the best they can come up with."

      However, "The budget deficit numbers you hear announced at White House press conferences are from accounts kept on a cash basis, with no accruals made for monies owed by or due to the government in the future."

      What's the difference? A lot. In 2004, the deficit was reported at $412 billion. The official GAAP-based number published by the Treasury Dept. was $616 billion. Add in the net present value of the underfunding of Social Security and Medicare, and what you get is $3.4 trillion. Yes, trillion. And that's if you ignore a one-time spike from the setting up of the new, utterly unfunded Medicare drug benefit.

      The true GAAP-based deficit has been holding steady in that range. $3.7 trillion in 2003, $3.4 in 2004, $3.5 in 2005.

      "[T]otal federal obligations at the end of September were $51 trillion," says Williams, "over four times the level of GDP. It is unprecedented for a major country to have its actual obligations so far out of whack."

      Williams's conclusions about what comes next are grim. "The Fed will back the system with every dollar it can print. But of course that would go on top of what is already an uncontrolled federal deficit. The end result, when it does all come together, will be something akin to a hyperinflation, but at the same time you'll have also a very depressed economy. So there'll be an inflationary recession, which I think we're already beginning to get into."

      Despite his dire research findings, "I am an optimist at heart," Williams admits, "If you're able to somehow protect your assets and liquidity through the very rough times ahead, you're going to have some of the greatest investment opportunities that anyone has ever seen."


      • #4
        If cost of living raises track CPI, but the fed follows PCE, isn't there a massive disconnect here?