America’s economy has been progressing steadily. First quarter real GDP growth came in 2.2%. The official unemployment rate is 3.8%. Inflation, according to the Fed’s preferred measure is 2%.
But how accurate are those numbers?
“Nonsensical,” says John Williams, founder of Shadow Government Statistics, who has been tracking U.S. government data for more than three decades.
Williams reckons that, using traditional calculation methodologies, true inflation is likely running above 6% and the unemployment rate over 20%.
Most importantly, Williams’ calculations suggest that the US economy has been in a two decade-long depression. His line of reasoning is worth a look.
Williams argues that U.S. statistical agencies overestimate GDP data by underestimating the inflation deflator they use in the calculation.
Manipulating the inflation rate, Williams argues in Public Comment on Inflation Measurement , also enables the US government to pay out pensioners less than they were promised, by fudging cost of living adjustments.
This manipulation has ironically taken place quite openly over decades, as successive Republican and Democratic administrations made “improvements” in the way they calculated the data.
These adjustments (such as hedonic adjustments to inflation calculations, or not counting people who have stopped looking for work as part of the labor force) inevitably cast the government’s numbers in a more favorable light.
However, mainstream media journalists tend to have a poor grasp of mathematics. They were thus unable to grasp the depth of the problem, let alone explain the issues to the public.
Politicians have thus been able to fudge economic data openly. For example, the chart below shows U.S. GDP growth as measured by official sources.
The following chart (produced by Williams) shows GDP growth as calculated using a GDP deflator, corrected for an approximately two percentage point understatement.
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