Wednesday, March 08, 2006

MSN Money - The numbers behind the lies

Ever wonder why there's such a disconnect between the reports you hear in the media about how "the economic boom is coming along just great!" and your personal experience of barely getting by? About how inflation is never mentioned, but you notice virtually everything other than electronics is costing more and more every week? How is this possible?

Here's an article that's a review of an article that's not available yet. But the review itself is pretty mind-boggling. Here are a few quotes:

Williams differentiates between two data-manipulation practices. One is "systemic manipulations, where methodologies are changed." That's done in order to align the government's view of the world with the world, i.e., make things look better than they are. The second practice is out-and-out fudging of the data to produce whatever result is desired. Williams describes instances where various administrations have literally reverse-engineered the data to achieve that result (though politics is not the main purpose of the article).
(. . .)

Then for the ticking time bomb: Social Security. The proceeds from withholding do not go into a lockbox or trust fund. They are spent, thereby reducing the size of the stated deficit. More importantly, he notes that the government's accounting for the deficit doesn't include any accruals for Social Security or Medicare liability.

In fact, if that were done and the government used GAAP accounting, the deficits for 2003, 2004, and 2005 would each have been around $3.5 trillion. That's a trillion, not billion. In 2004 alone, the deficit on an accrual basis would have been $11.1 trillion, due to a huge one-time spike for setting up the Medicare drug benefits. In essence, as he points out, we're piling up additional liabilities in an amount roughly equivalent to our total GDP every three years.

(. . .)
Returning to the subject of GDP, Williams illuminates a wrinkle that I had not known about, called "imputations": They are "an outgrowth of the theoretical structure of the national income accounts. Any benefit a person receives has an imputed income component. If you're a homeowner, the government assumes that you pay yourself rent on your house, so that's rental income. ... Imputed interest income, for instance, accounted for 21% of all personal interest income in 2002, and was growing at an annual rate of over 8%. Meanwhile, fully 62% of total rental income that year was the imputed variety."*"


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