Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kevin Phillips denotes 40 years of government economic lies

The real unemployment rate in America today? Oh, about 9 percent?

Gross domestic product didn’t grow 0.6 percent this quarter; it slipped.

Inflation? About 6-7 percent, in reality.

A newspaper excerpt of Phillips’ new book, “Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed
Politics and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism,” details how, since JFK, every American president except Carter (at least, Phillips did not mention him in the excerpted piece) has jacked with how we calculate unemployment, the Gross National/Domestic Product (remember, one of those changes was to move from GNP to GDP), the inflation rate, or two or more of the above.

Phillips points out it was Jack Kennedy who had his administration invent the idea of “discouraged” workers to lower unemployment numbers.

Under John Kennedy, out-of-work Americans who had stopped looking for jobs — even if this was because none could be found — were labeled “discouraged workers” and then excluded from the ranks of the unemployed.

Lyndon Johnson orchestrated a “unified budget” that combined Social Security with the rest of the federal outlays. This innovation allowed the surplus receipts in Social Security to mask the emerging federal deficit.

Richard Nixon created a division between “core” inflation and headline inflation. If the Consumer Price Index was calculated by tracking a bundle of prices, so-called core inflation would simply exclude, because of “volatility,” categories that happened to be troublesome (and thus in the “headlines”). At that time, it was food and energy (as it is now).

Under Ronald Reagan, the Bureau of Labor Statistics decided that housing was overstating the Consumer Price Index and substituted an entirely different “Owner Equivalent Rent” measurement, based on what a homeowner might get for renting his house. This methodology, controversial at the time but still used, sidestepped what was happening in the real world of homeowner costs. Some say that led to the mortgage crisis today.

Under the first President Bush, officials moved to reorient U.S. economic statistical measure away from old industrial-era methodologies toward the emerging services economy and the expanding retail and financial sectors. Skeptics said the underlying goal was to reduce the inflation rate in order to reduce federal payments — from interest on the national debt to cost-of-living outlays for government employees, retirees and Social Security recipients.

Under President Clinton, the convoluted CPI changes proposed under Bush were implemented. And the Clintonites tinkered with the unemployment number, in part, by changing its housing economic sampling, disproportionately eliminating inner city households. That is believed to have reduced black unemployment estimates and eased worsening poverty figures.

Don’t expect any of this to change. Hillary Clinton’s husband was one of the bigger numbers-fudgers, in a way that “the first black president” didn’t help blacks.

McCain? It doesn’t involve a tax cut, so he doesn’t give a damn, and he’s already admitted his economic cluelessness.

Obama? Maybe, but I won’t hold out too much hope.The real unemployment rate in America today? Oh, about 9 percent?

But, the bottom line is this has been bipartisan. Republican and Democratic Congresses have acquiesced in Republican and Democratic Presidents doing this.

And, no, in our current two-party system, I really don't expect this to change.