March 2, 2017
Paul Craig Roberts
According to official US economic data, the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has expanded for 22 quarters, raising real GDP 12.1% above its high prior to the 2008-09 economic contraction. Yet, US manufacturing output and US industrial production have not recovered to their pre-contraction high.
So what is driving the real GDP growth? In my opinion, the rise in real GDP is an illusion produced by the under-measurement of inflation.
As I have reported on many occasions, John Williams of shadowstats.com has concluded that changes in the way that the government approaches the measurement of inflation has, in effect, defined inflation away.
Formerly, if a price of an item in an inflation measure rose, the inflation rate would rise by the price times the weight of the item in the index. Today, if a price of an item in an inflation measure rises, that item is removed from the index, and a lower cost item substituted in its place.
A second way that government has contrived in order to undermeasure inflation is to declare price rises “quality improvements” and not count the higher price as inflation.
Using these methods, an 8% rate of inflation can, for example, be reduced to a 2% inflation rate.
The low inflation rate is what produces the appearance of real GDP growth. As GDP is measured in prevailing prices, in order to know whether the GDP number is the result of an increase in the output of goods and services or merely the result of higher prices or inflation, the nominal GDP figure is deflated by the inflation measure.
For example, if nominal GDP rises 5% this year over last year, and the inflation rate is measured at 2%, real GDP has grown by 3%. However, if the 2% inflation rate is the contrived result described above, and inflation is really 5% or 8%, GDP growth was zero or declined by 3%.
The main reason that the government revamped its measurement of inflation is to save money by denying Social Security recipients cost-of-living-adjustments. During the many years that retirees have had no interest income on their retirement savings due to the Federal Reserve’s low interest rate policy in support of the balance sheets of the “banks too big to fail,” retirees have also been denied cost-of-living adjustments to their Social Security pensions.