Inflation Running at Higher Rate Than Reported, Shadow Statistics of Earlier Years Suggest
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Headlines might be trumpeting that prices are rising at the fastest rate since 1982, but it turns out that if inflation is measured the way it was calculated 40 years ago, the situation is even worse.
Just the other day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the inflation rate soared to 6.8 percent for the 12 months ending in November, “the largest 12-month increase since the period ending June 1982.”
That, however, tells only part of the story. If the price changes are measured by the model economists were actually using in June 1982, inflation is actually at a 74-year high. That means, based on the 1980 Consumer Price Index model, that November 2021 inflation was at the rate of a staggering 14.9 percent.
That analysis is from John Williams’ Shadow Government Statistics, which presents data using previous Consumer Price Index frameworks. The number it comes up with for November 2021 marks the worst inflation rate since the 17.6 percent in June 1947 when President Truman was in office.
The CPI measures the average change in prices paid by urban consumers for an abstract market basket of consumer goods and services. Despite its air of statistical authority, the index is not an objective indicator, especially over time.
Methods for compiling the index have changed markedly over the years since its inception in 1919. In the last 40 years there have been two comprehensive revisions of the index and numerous incremental changes and tweaks to the system. The BLS also retroactively changes some CPI data as new methods are introduced.
The changes are ostensibly meant to improve the accuracy and utility of the index, as well as adapt to changing technologies and methods of data collection. Yet budget politics and trends in academic thinking have also played a role in changing how the index works and what it means.
During the rampant inflation of the 1970s, many government transfer payments, salaries, and union contracts adopted cost of living adjustment provisions tied to the CPI. Politicians soon realized that lower and less volatile changes in the index would save the government money, and pushed through changes that lowered the CPI.
Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics began to move away from the traditional fixed-weight basket of goods approach, which had a more objective standard of living basis, and more towards “hedonic” quality of life measures, which attempt to assess consumer satisfaction as tied to prices.
Additional metrics like “core inflation,” which removes fuel and food from the equation, add to the confusion over how prices are changing. While economists prefer core inflation because it reduces volatility, it is inherently anti-consumer, since food and fuel are two of the most important commodities in the basket affecting everyday life.
For example, “core” inflation was up 4.9 percent over the last year, but the energy index soared 33.3 percent. Adjusting inflation numbers to cater to political considerations, presumed satisfaction, or academic fashion does not change real-world, out-of-pocket consumer expenses, or strains on family budgets.
While the official inflation rate is subject to government tampering, the real-world consequences of inflation are quickly reflected in public opinion. A Wall Street Journal survey last week found 56 percent reporting inflation causing financial strain, while a new poll from ABC News shows that 69 percent of Americans disapprove of how President Biden has handled inflation.
This included 71 percent disapproval among independents. Mr. Biden told CNN that he believes America is at “the peak of the crisis,” but that peak may be far higher than official numbers tell us.