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Weekend at the Movies: Silence

Posted on Sunday, January 15, 2017 No comments
With most movies there are points at which you are supposed to laugh, or maybe even cheer.  Martin Scorsese's new movie Silence is not lacking for a few of those, even while being a very deep, theological work.  The problem is you have to be 'devout' in a sense to perceive them.  There were probably 50 or so people in the theater Saturday afternoon when my wife and I watched the movie.  At once place in particular - and then at a similar point later - we had to stifle our laughs because it just seemed the rest of the audience did not quite get the joke.

It will not spoil the movie for me to share the moment.  To most Christians - and certainly to devout Catholics - the practice of grace before a meal is simply part of the rhythm of life.  The two young Jesuit priests - the movie tells the story from their perspective - who beg to search out their mentor in Japan in the midst of the severe persecution of the early 1600's - have been taken in by underground Christians.  Their hosts offer what little food they have, and being hungry from the trip, the priests scarf it down - while the poor underground Christians pause, waiting for them to bless the food.  They quickly realize their faux pas, rush through the Sign of the Cross, and say grace.

My wife and I really had to stifle our laughter.  At our dinner table the game is on as we wait to see who will dig in before grace is said.  That person ends up being the one to say grace, and they are not allowed to wait until they finish their bite.  And then we light-heartedly mock the way they mumble through their prayer with their mouth full.  (Full disclosure: I am usually the one who 'loses' the game. Thank you Lord for good food and great company.  Amen.)

As a Christian with a formal educational background in theology and church history - especially the history of Christianity in Asia - Silence is an absolutely magnificent movie.  I imagine, though, that it will be hard to appreciate it for those not steeped in some of the traditions and history.  Here are a few places I liked most:

When the two Jesuit priests first encounter someone on the Japanese island they have been brought to from China there is a certain tension.  Will this person turn them in?  The tension is broken by the Sign of the Cross.  This is a beautiful enactment of actual history.  The 'Sign of the Cross' is observed by using right hand to touch the forehead, chest (heart), the left shoulder, then the right shoulder.  Today it is associated with prayer - at the beginning and end.  I also recall living in the Philippines, riding on a Jeepney being driven incredibly fast and rather recklessly.  I think every single passenger did the Sign of the Cross numerous times...  It has been handed down from the earliest Christians in the Roman Empire.  It was originally something of a 'secret handshake' they used to identify themselves to each other in passing, but in a way which avoided notice of others and the authorities.

The movie also shows something I have seen first hand; it is something that has always bothered me.

Whether it arise from Roman Catholic theology about the 'Real Presence' of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist - which can only be offered by a priest - or in the tendency of Protestant missionaries to use technology to impress and gather an audience, there is this sense that something is 'missing' when the priest/missionary is gone.  If anything, the history of Christianity in Asia teaches us the exact opposite.

In this period, roughly the 17th century, there was a rivalry between the Jesuit missionaries on one hand and the Franciscans and Dominicans on the other.  The rivalry is best documented in the controversy surrounding the mission of Matteo Ricci in China.  Instead of attempting to 'convert' the Chinese, Ricci took the time to learn the language and traditions. He was an astronomer and cartographer, and used the implements of these disciplines to bring something in which the Confucian intellectuals would find value.  As a result, Ricci discovered many aspects of Chinese thought which corresponded well to Christian thought.  Instead of coining foreign Latinism when translating the Bible, Ricci borrowed terms native to China and sought to fill them with new meaning.  The Franciscans and Dominicans - mainly in Japan - attempted the opposite.  The history of Christianity in Japan is very much a history of misunderstandings resulting from this choice.

Additionally, Ricci taught that reverence for deceased ancestors was not 'worship' in the sense understood by Christians, and as such was perfectly acceptable for a Chinese Christian.  Worship of 'God' for the Chinese was something the Emperor did on behalf of the people.  And in a figurative sense, the Chinese people were thought to be descendants of the Emperor.  For them, reverence of their forbears was 'worship by proxy' (my term) in a very hierarchical sense which worked up to the Emperor, who worshiped 'God'.

This matter of what kind of language would be used when translating Scripture and teaching, and the matter of reverence for deceased ancestors, was disputed between the Jesuits and Franciscans/Dominicans.  The dispute went all the way up to a number of different Popes.  Clement XI banned the use of native language in theology and rites for the dead in 1704, even though the Dominicans and Franciscans had come to agree with the Jesuits.

It is likely the Franciscans and Dominicans came to see things as did the Jesuits because of the persistent misunderstandings - and persecutions - experienced in Japan.  But the real story here is not what became of either China nor Japan.  The real story is what became of Christianity in Korea.

John Ross, a Protestant missionary in China, was the first to translate the New Testament into Korean.  Korea, much like Japan, was a closed society which highly prized self-reliance and development.  Ross was not able to gain entry into Korea, but was able to get his translation of the New Testament in.  When translating the New Testament, Ross used Ricci's approach and used native terms, trusting that time would allow new meanings to develop for those words.  On the Roman Catholic side, Korean Confucian intellectuals had received word of Matteo Ricci and his teachings on astronomy and cartography.  His maps of that part of the world were especially of interest, so they traveled to Peking to meet Ricci.  They returned with a very rudimentary understanding, and some implements, of the Catholic Mass.

Hundreds of years later, when French Catholic missionaries made it into Korea, they were shocked to discover the Mass already being celebrated - even if in a very rudimentary way.  Similarly, when Protestant missionaries arrived they were shocked to find the New Testament already well-known and some simple Christian communities already existing.  In Korea, because Christianity developed in the absence of foreign missionaries, it did not suffer from being viewed as a 'foreign' religion.  Indeed, in World War II under the efforts of Imperial Japan to "japanize" Korea, Christian churches and schools were considered guardians of Korean culture and language.  Today, the Korean church is considered a 'deposit' not only of faith, but of Korean patriotism.

In Silence, the two Jesuit priests are seeking their former mentor, who is believed to have abandoned the faith under persecution.  When they find him, the dialog which ensues is fascinating - but you have to know a little of the back story above to really appreciate it.

The central struggle of the movie is with the desire to 'hear' from God only to be met with 'silence'.  I'll try here to prepare the reader to appreciate how the movie grapples with this without giving it away.  There is a character in the movie who you will begin to ridicule.  Look for that character, because once you encounter him or her, then watch for how the answer to the conundrum of the silence of God emerges from that character toward the end of the movie.

The Politics of Human Dignity

Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2016 No comments
As much as I have been dismayed by his take on the current political scene, Michael Gerson's latest column in the Washington Post - which my local daily, the San Diego Union Tribune, headlined with "A  Politics of Dignity" - he is at least starting to think about some of the things that really matter.  Even if he is drawing all the wrong conclusions about them.

Mr. Gerson tries to define political conservatism by centering it on a defense of (among other things) human dignity.  This is good.  But it also requires we ask ourselves from where this dignity arises.  To throw out one of those $10 Latin-isms Mr. Gerson and I might have used in a seminary paper, human freedom is the sine qua non of human dignity (sine qua non meaning 'that without which').  Human dignity - especially in the public sense - then arises not from arrangements dictated by political society, but from those which arise freely and organically among civil society.  This is then to say there can be no human dignity in the public sphere to defend without human freedom.

And government is antithetical to freedom.  It always will be for the simple reason that despite our inherent dignity, we are not angels.  If we were, we would not need laws, lawyers, or government.

But since we are manifestly not angels, we need government.  But once we make such an arrangement we must fund it, so government is first and foremost the power to lay and collect taxes - to take from what is rightfully ours privately for public purposes.  Government also requires we employ people - who are, again, not angels - to implement these public purposes.  We thus arrange our government into departments and agencies, and allocate to each from those public funds.

The brokenness of our human nature quickly takes over.  Success in government service becomes a question not of how effectively those public funds have been deployed, but of whether or not your allocation of them has been increased.  Success and failure end up reduced to this: If your budget is increased, you are a success.  It is cut, you are a failure.

Mr. Gerson acknowledges that conservatism embraces limited government, but seems to forget why.  This inescapably human reduction of success and failure in government service guarantees that as the size of government multiplies, so do the disincentives to efficiency.  Capital which could otherwise be far better deployed gets sunk into the least efficient, least productive sector of the economy.

It is the ramifications of this which have brought us to a place where Mr. Gerson observes the "short supply" of a fundamental belief in human dignity and that the purpose of politics is to "honor the equal value of every life, beginning with the weakest and most vulnerable..."

I am not at all convinced this is in as short a supply as Mr. Gerson thinks.  I do believe, however, it  is struggling to dig itself out of the grave which big government has dug for it.  But to explain this, we need to back up and rescue the whole concept of 'dignity' from the political context of this election season and return it to its proper owner - the individual in whom inheres inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Dignity is experiential.  It is not something we can quantify or measure outside of human experience.  So how do we experience it?  For a wide swath of our electorate, dignity is experienced in meaningful work.  'Meaningful' is, of course, a rather abstract concept which can mean different things to different people.  For some it might mean serving a satisfied customer - and finding that dignity in the interpersonal exchanges arising from that service.

But for others it is experienced in being part of taking otherwise useless raw materials and turning them into useful things.  On the smallest scale, I saw this when my son brought home a vase as a gift for his mother on Mother's Day.  He had taken a lump of clay in his high school ceramics class and turned it into that vase.  I used that as a teachable moment to help him understand wealth.  If the lump of clay commands $0.50 in price, but the vase commands $5.00, what accounts for the extra $4.50 in value?  The answer is in making the lump of clay useful.  That extra $4.50 is the very definition of 'wealth' and was created by the work of his hands.

I see this on a much larger scale every time I walk onto one of our local shipyards.  I walk past rolls of steel being forged into various pieces which will then be welded together into a ship.  I have seen massive tankers built from the ground up by a finely tuned symphony of exactly the same instrument: human hands.  And in each and every pair of those hands is the experience of dignity born of meaningful work when that ship is launched into service.

Mr. Gerson desparately needs to push himself away from his keyboard and lace up some steel toe work boots, lay a pair of safety goggles on his nose, and don a hard hat.  He needs to visit what is left of our manufacturing sector and simply let the men and women who remain tell him about the dignity they find in meaningful work.  Then he might understand what has been lost.  He might also begin to understand why belief in human dignity seems in short supply.

At a Roman Catholic altar there is a light, which when on, tells you that the 'tabernacle' has consecrated hosts in it.  To the devout that light tells them to genuflect as they pass the altar.  The conservative liturgy requires genuflecting at the altar of free markets - and Mr. Gerson at least poses as a devout conservative.  But that light has been out, quite frankly, for more than 20 years; the tabernacle of the 'free' market has been emptied by decades of big government and its perennial deficits.

No plan actually exists to pay off the $20T of resulting debt.  This is the grave dug for human dignity by big government.  The only plan is to keep refinancing this debt by rolling over its constituent bonds.  And for this reason, interest rates must continue to decline.  Who, after all, has refinanced a debt at a higher rate?

This, then, demands monetary policy which makes truly 'free' trade agreements impossible.  What is gained over years of trade negotiations can be lost within a week's worth of movements on the currency markets.  We end up forced to ship overseas the very source of human dignity for a large swath of the American electorate - meaningful work actually taking raw materials and making useful things out of them.  And Donald Trump is now President of the United States.

By writing about human dignity, Mr. Gerson has at least put himself and his readers on the right track.  If belief in human dignity seems in short supply, it is because it has been buried in a grave of public debt and otherwise shipped overseas to allow the political/financial class to absolve themselves of their crimes against that same human dignity.

'Disgusting': A Workplace Conversation

Posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016 No comments
Like most, I usually avoid religion and politics at work.  But today a co-worker and I were waiting for a computer system to be scanned for cyber-security risks and got to talking about the economy.  He mentioned that he had watched the movie "The Big Short" (which I highly recommend) but got caught up in trying to grasp the underlying explanations - which seemed too arcane to get his head wrapped around.

As I tried to explain them, he shook his head and used the word "disgusting" - which is exactly how people feel after they see the movie.  I used that as an opportunity to explain Donald Trump's win: People held him up in front of the status quo so they could see themselves in all of their disgusting glory.

My friend said he planned to watch the movie again, but this time not worry about understanding the underlying economics.  So I tried to explain the dynamics the movie tries to expose. I'll try here as well.  And once you do understand, maybe - just maybe - you'll understand why people like me are tickled pink watching the status quo establishment retching over "President Trump."

When you buy a share of a company's stock you are buying an ownership stake in the company.  This means you will enjoy a share in the appreciation of the company's value as it competes successfully in its market.  It also means you are exposed to the company's liabilities, and can end up losing money if the company fails to compete successfully.  That success is supposed to be based on the ability to make a better product at a lower cost than its competition.  Part of those costs is the cost of money.  If money comes at a cost (interest rates), then the higher those rates are, the more important it is that the company have a genuinely better product than its competitors.

But what happens when money is free?  Or all but free?

A whole raft of companies emerge who base revenues on financial engineering rather than actually "making a better mousetrap" (as my parents would say) or by "brewing a better beer" (my preferred metaphor here in San Diego).

That financial engineering uses Big Data in much the same way as hurricane forecasters do.  Data is brought into context with other data to create 'information'.  This information is then run through statistical models validated against past data to predict the future.  With hurricanes this means the path and intensity of the center of the storm predicted out about five to seven days.  With financial engineering it means the movement of prices in things like real estate and commodities.

When the models show prices increasing, a company might sign futures contracts.  When the price rises, they sell the contract at a profit.  They are not actually interested in taking delivery of the underlying commodity and turning it into useful products.  So their revenue is based on making winning "bets" - and using Big Data for something that is essentially the same as "card counting."

Now imagine someone decides to set up a company to invest in companies whose revenue is based on winning bets like these.  That company issues stock.  Again, that stock reflects a share in revenue - but that revenue is just an aggregation of winning bets made by other companies.  Theoretically, there is no limit to the number of "links" in a "chain" like this.  So if one company makes a $10,000 bet, and a second company makes a bet on that bet, and so on and so forth, that $10,000 bet can balloon exponentially into a multi-billion dollar exposure.

When get your head wrapped around this, there really are only two options.  You either deny what is actually right in front of you because you think "that can't possibly be legal" (it is - but wasn't in the past) or "that sounds like a conspiracy theory" (this is what Wall Street wants you think).  Or you come to terms with it and are left utterly disgusted and outraged.  It is that disgust and outrage that has propelled Trump into the White House.

But it is not enough to be disgusted and outraged because if that is all there is, then we have no idea of what to expect of what our government and economy should like after the "draining of the swamp."  This is where understanding the math of all of this is essential.

When placing bets on things like commodities or real estate, it is crucial that we understand how the cost of money affects the odds.  Imagine the chips are free at the Blackjack table.  The odds in Blackjack are well-understood.  The only question is long you can remain at the table.  The cheaper the chips, the longer you can play.  It is the same with money in the financial sector.  Cheap - or free - money allows those who understand the math and have Big Data resources to do the math to gamble more and longer.  With essentially free money it is almost impossible not to be lured in by that math - it seems you cannot possibly lose.

Until you do.

And when your bets are chained together in a hierarchy of derivatives, a $10,000 bet gone bad can collapse an entire bank.  And when an entire sector of banks are making these kinds of bets, an entire economy is at risk.

The answer is a properly restrained money supply and an eventual elimination of derivatives as a legal financial product.  What this will do is end the "financialization" of the economy where this kind of completely unproductive economic activity competes with the Main Street economy for capital which it (Main Street) could actually deploy toward brewing that better beer, creating wealth, and with it decent, middle class jobs.

Draining the swamp thus needs to start with the Federal Reserve.  Returning Wall Street to the simplicity of Glass-Steagall and making securitization of futures contracts illegal will end the gambling and allow capital to flow back to Main Street wealth creators.

Michael Gerson's Final Appeal: More Beltway Blather

Posted on Monday, November 7, 2016 No comments
I don't know Michael Gerson.  But I do know that he and I share a common educational path.  Gerson has a Master of Divnity (M.Div.) from Wheaton College.  I have the same degree from Bethel University, both established Evangelical schools.  Gerson is an especially gifted writer, and I appreciated how his gifts help President Bush steer the country after 9/11.

But over the course of this political season it has become increasingly frustrating to read what seems to be a deliberate effort on his part (as well as writers like George Will and Charles Krauthammer) to speak past the voters who will be casting their ballot for Donald Trump.  This election is a lot like a dynamic I see every day as an information technology professional - where the single most challenging problem has nothing to do with technology, but with business people and technology professionals talking past each other because neither understands the other's perspective.

Perhaps Gerson, Will, Krauthammer, et. al. have become so conversant in the ideas that circulate within the Beltway that they have completely lost touch with the ideas of those who have not participated in the financial joys of proximity to the political/financial complex.  If this is the case, it is likely because they are grasping for a Beltway rationale - a reason to support one candidate over another, or not not support a candidate.  They are confounded by the fact that the rest of us are not interested in their reasons for not supporting Donald Trump.  We are not grasping for anything, but punching back at a political/financial complex who has sentenced our children, grand children, and great grand children to a life picking the Progressive cotton on the Establishment's debt plantation.

And so the more rhetorical skill writers like Gerson devote to their Beltway rationales for not voting for Trump, the more perfect they make him for our purposes.  As I have said throughout in numerous fora, the more tawdry and disgusting the reports of Trump's past behavior become, the more perfect a candidate he becomes.

Trump is a mirror.

He is a mirror we are holding up in front of writers like Gerson, Will, and Krauthammer especially, because as supposed conservatives, we think they ought to know better.  Trump is disgusting.  So now we have the opportunity to ensure they get a 3D, high def, full color look at their utterly disgusting selves.  The more disgusting Trump becomes, the better reflection is provided by him as a mirror.  To illustrate, I'll touch on a number of things Gerson says in his "final appeal."

Gerson seems to point to Teddy Roosevelt as the embodiment of the reform that George W. Bush sought to bring to Republican ideology.  To conservatives who know their history, this is ridiculous.  TR was a Bull Moose Progressive; he was not a conservative.  Here in San Diego I chided the local Republican Party for having a banner with Roosevelt on it, with this as the quote: "We are the government.  The government is us."  This is nothing short of a Progressive manifesto designed to tear down the wall between the people and their government.  That wall is called the Constitution.

The local party also had a banner with Reagan on it.  The quote was different, but I imagined what Reagan said about the government.  If government is not the solution to our problems, but is itself the problem - and if we are the government and the government is us, then does that not mean we are the problem?  But I digress...

Gerson has completely forgotten that freedom precedes government, and our Constitution was not written to enshrine government at the center of American life, but to protect freedom from it.  Each and every decree of government is necessarily a subtraction from freedom.  We have to have some form of government because human history shows we have to subtract from freedom in order for civil society to thrive.  But the essence of Progressive political philosophy is to flip these two and place government - not human freedom - at the center of American life.  I am shocked that a writer as gifted a Gerson does not seem to understand this.

Hearkening back to the Bush (W) years, he wants us to suspend our view of the efficacy of "No Child Left Behind" and consider the intention to win a mandate for "a certain model of government."  I am left speechless hearing a supposedly conservative writer appeal to a disregard of results in favor of a celebration of good intentions.  I thought Liberals had a monopoly on that kind of sentimental laziness.

The rest of Gerson's article repeats a litany of distortions of much of what Trump has been reported as saying.  To illustrate, I'll flip sides for a moment.  The one topic on which I have always appreciated President Obama is that of race.  Each time he has spoken on it, he has called for a mutual clarification of our own perspectives rather than a suspicion towards others' motives.  And each time, after listening to him speak live, I have then been disgusted by how the conservative media reported on the speech - making him out to say things he clearly did not say.

This is an artifact of what journalism has become in this country.  Take something someone says, interpret it in the most controversial light possible, find someone on the other side to be outraged by that interpretation, report the outrage like it is 'breaking news', and then spend a week talking about something which was never said to begin with.  With Trump being completely unschooled on political rhetoric, he becomes a target-rich environment for this kind of lazy, irresponsible excuse for journalism.

Along these lines, Gerson thinks Trump's idea of government is authoritarian and says he "...never imagined that Republican leaders... would fall in line with such dangerous delusions, on the theory that anything is better than Hillary Clinton.  What Gerson has really "never imagined" is that Republican voters would utterly repudiate the interpretations of Beltway writers like himself, in favor of a mandate to overturn their status quo buffeted by a legislature which would actually do its job for once.  Personally, I am excited by the idea that a President Trump will owe nothing to the Republican Establishment - because it will mean the Republican Congress will owe nothing to Donald Trump.  Imagine! A Republican Congress whose first debt is to its oath to uphold and defend the Constitution!

Gerson cannot comprehend how voters would "normalize" the things Trump seems to stand for.  Again, Gerson has chosen to listen to Trump from within his apparently Progressive Beltway echo chamber where ink is spilled by the gallon on something that no longer even resembles journalism.  What Gerson manifestly has not done is what his M.Div. was supposed to have trained him to do - question what has become of his own traditions and listen honestly to other voices.

A Trump victory will normalize only those things the Trump voters wish to see return: A preference for civil society over political society and its big government; a return to fiscal sanity and monetary policy which actually rewards thrift, innovation, and productivity, an immigration system which faithfully executes the laws of the country - facilitating legal immigration instead of the bureaucracy's next budget demands, and a table which is set to equitably benefit both the consumer and the worker.

Democracy at Risk?

Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2016 No comments
If our democracy is at risk, it is because drivel which would never be permitted by a professor teaching first year critical thinking now passes for competent commentary from the Washington Post.

Our local paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, carried Catherine Rampell's column this morning.  Apparently she thinks a "particular subset of Americans [read: 'deplorables'] have had enough of experts, facts, math, data. They distrust them all."

She is apparently appalled that "more than 4 in 10 Americans somewhat or completely distrust the economic data reported by the federal government."  And if we only count the 'deplorables', 68 percent do not trust the data "at all."  She calls roll on the usual suspects: unemployment, inflation, household spending, health insurance coverage rates, gross domestic products, etc.

If she had followed up with at least an attempt at substantive discussion of how these numbers are calculated and - even more importantly - how they are used, she could have at least avoided making her college professors look bad.  But there was nothing but red herrings and ad hominem - to the point I am left wondering if she even knows what those two terms mean in the world of critical thinking.

So let's do a little of the substantive analysis she couldn't provide in no fewer than 28 Union-Tribune column inches.

Inflation is easily the most important, and least understood, of the economic series reported by the government.  It is the most important because it provides the foundation for the 'deflator' which is used to calculate Gross Domestic Product.  The most important result of that relationship is this: If you understate inflation, you necessarily overstate economic growth.  Inflation is also what determines interest rates.  Here when you realize that the U.S. Government does not take in enough revenue month-to-month to even pay the interest on its debt, you also realize that keeping interest rates low is 1) a way of staving off the inevitable fiscal - and therefore political - reckoning; and 2) that this reckoning is, in fact, mathematically inevitable.  To understand why, just try to find someone who has refinanced their mortgage at a higher rate.

Rampell derisively refers to "shadow stats."  This can only mean one of two things: 1) She is aware of John Williams' shadowstats.com and has thus failed to offer anything even approaching substantive interaction with his work; or 2) she has 'heard' about his work and is just parroting a second-hand narrative of 'conspiracy theories'.  Either way, she and her college profs (and we'll add her editors to the list) don't come out looking very good for her effort.

But leaving Shadow Stats aside, let's look at actual 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The weighting of various prices in the Consumer Price Index is shown in complete detail.  The most glaring anomaly is rent.  The 'housing' component is 42 percent, which seems about right.  But within that component, only a little under eight percent is 'rent of primary residence' while a category called 'owners equivalent of rent of residences' is no less than 24 percent.  Let's explore that one for a moment: The 'owners equivalent' figure is notional.  This is not what owners are getting in rent; it is what the BLS guesses they could get in rent on their primary residence were they to rent it out.  But 'rent of primary residence' is an actual number - the rent being paid by the average renter of an apartment.  Can Rampell take a crack at explaining why someone would weight a notional number far more heavily than an actual number?

Another example is education.  CNBC writer John W. Schoen shows how tuition inflation has dramatically outpaced broader inflation measurements.  The BLS data shows us that college tuition is weighted at 1.8 percent.  And books and supplies at 0.16 percent (!!!).  Parents of college age students like me and my wife are painfully aware that the BLS formula ought to be labeled as the BLS formula - just remove the 'L'.

I'll round out the examples with health care.  The BLS data shows a weighting of 8.4 percent.  But when looking at various estimates of the percentage of income Americans devote to health care, 9.6 percent is the lowest number out there.  For those making $35-47K, the percentage is 14.5.  And with massive premium increases on the horizon, this picture is only going to get worse.

The long and short? The BLS data significantly under-weights the prices ordinary people (as opposed to the 'experts') know are the main drivers of price inflation.

Inflation - if we go by the 'textbook' - is the difference between the growth of the money supply and the growth of the economy.  Some will differentiate between this definition (monetary inflation) and the growth or decline in consumer prices (price inflation).  If, for example, the money supply has grown by 20 percent, but the economy only by two percent, the rate of monetary inflation is 18 percent.  One would expect - by the textbook theory - that price inflation will follow monetary inflation.  The claim is, of course, that price inflation is about two percent, so those who have been ringing the inflation fire alarm are ridiculed by writers like Rampell.

But if we look at all of the various paths money takes in the economy, and look at three in particular: the stock market; the bond market; and real estate, the answer is right in front of us.  And, no, Ms. Rampell, we don't need 'experts' to see it.

Stocks, bonds, and real estate are 'inflation sinks'.  Just like a 'heat sink' dissipates heat, these three markets are dissipating the inflation of the money supply.  But the only way to hide this effect in real estate, for example, is to underweight actual rents (which are soaring) and overweight notional rents - like what I might get were I to rent the house I live in.  It's as if we are to believe that notional rents have greater influence on consumer spending choices than actual rents.

And by not counting the stock or bond markets (they are not 'consumer prices', after all), we are hiding the real threat to our democracy: wealth inequality.  If Ms. Rampell was actually familiar with the writing of 'deplorables' like myself and others who challenge the 'data', she would see that between us and the Left, we agree that income inequality is a problem.  Where we disagree is on the origins of - and therefore the solutions to - the problem.

Income inequality is a function of public debt; here is how the cycle works: Each time the U.S. Treasury issues a 'bond', it is bought by a 'primary dealer'.  It then gets sold on the 'secondary market'.  When the Federal Reserve was engaging in Quantitative Easing (QE), they were literally creating money out of thin air (digitally) to buy these bonds on the secondary market. Each time a bond changes hands, fees and commissions are booked.  These bonds are issued, of course, to pay for deficit spending. Wall Street loves the arrangement - they are the ones booking the fees and commissions, after all.  And so just as the public debt soars, so does political spending.  Where does political campaign cash come from?  Primarily Wall Street - from the fees and commissions they book trading in government debt.

It is essential, then, both for the political and the financial halves of the 'political/financial' complex that this borrowing continue.  What threatens it?  Rising interest rates... again, who refinances a mortgage at a higher rate?  How do you keep interest rates artificially low?  By keeping the rate of inflation artificially low.

When we look at the multiplier between the salary of an average worker and that of a CEO, the 'norm' used to be about 20 (the CEO would make 20X the salary of the average worker.  When we look at the multiplier in companies 'closest' to all the new money that has been created (the 'political/financial' complex) the multiplier runs as high as 300.  If increases in income can be tied to increases in productivity and other forms of wealth creation, people should be free to make as much money as they please.  But when these increases are derived from proximity to banks and government, and funded by the banks lending to government, something is very wrong. And campaign finance reform will not fix it. And end to borrow-and-spend government will.

Inflation, then, works it way into so many other numbers.  With an honest reporting of inflation - by accounting for actual rather than notional prices for things like rent, properly weighting education and health care, and by taking into account stocks, bonds, and real estate - inflation would be significantly higher. And that would mean GDP would be significantly lower.  That, then, would expose the Big Lie - that we have been 'recovering' since the last financial crisis.  The fact that we have likely been in recession throughout the entirety of Obama's two terms is a very inconvenient truth.  But even worse - for both political parties - a true accounting of inflation would cause interest rates to surge, putting an immediate end to the debate over the debt ceiling.  That debate would be over because when no one is willing to lend us money at a rate we can afford, it will not make one whit of difference what the 'debt ceiling' is.

The cooperation and compromise everyone says they want will not happen until we start doing something very simple: Tell the truth about the economy.
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