The New Misery Index
(August 25, 2014)
The Status Quo is desperate to mask the declining fortunes of those who earn income from work, and the Misery Index 2.0 strips away the phony facade of bogus unemployment and inflation numbers.
The classic Misery Index is the sum of unemployment and inflation, though later variations have added interest rates and the relative shortfall or surplus of GDP growth.
Since the Status Quo figured out how to game unemployment and inflation to the point that these metrics are meaningless except as a meta-measure of centralized perception management, the Misery Index has lost its meaning as well.
I propose a Misery Index 2.0 of four less easily manipulated (and therefore more meaningful) metrics:
1. The participation rate: the percentage of the working-age population with a job
2. Real (adjusted for inflation) median household income: an imperfect but still useful measure of purchasing power
3. Labor share of the non-farm economy: how much of the national income is going to wage-earners
4. Money velocity: a basic measure of economic vitality
The foundation of Misery Index 2.0 is jobs, earned income and the purchasing power of earnings. Inflation is easily gamed by underweighting big-ticket expenses and offsetting increasing costs with hedonic adjustments, and unemployment is easily gamed by shifting people from the work-force to not in the workforce. This category of zombies--not counted in measures of unemployment--has skyrocketed:
The participation rate is the more telling metric: if fewer people of working age have jobs, the claim that the Main Street economy is "doing better" rings false.
Even though the rate of inflation is heavily gamed, real median household income is the best available gauge of purchasing power. Purchasing power simply means how many goods and services will your income buy?
For example: if your daily salary buys 20 gallons of gasoline, and a year from now you get a raise but your daily pay only buys 15 gallons of gasoline, the purchasing power of your earnings fell despite the higher nominal salary.
Real median household income has declined, meaning the purchasing power of earnings fell.
This chart also shows labor's share of the non-farm economy: that broad measure of earned income (as opposed to corporate profits, unearned income and rentier income) reflects a steady decline in labor's share of the national income.
Once again, claims that the Main Street economy is "doing better" make no sense if labor's share of the national income is declining.
An economy in rude good health has a high velocity of money. An economy bedeviled with high taxes, rentier skims, cartels, politically untouchable fiefdoms, quasi-monopolies and free money for financiers provided by the central bank has a declining velocity of money.
You can fake unemployment and inflation, but it's harder to paper over the weakness reflected in money velocity:
Central-planning always leads to ginned-up phony statistics, because centrally planned economies always stagnate due to corruption, malinvestments, and some are more equal than others skims and scams by insiders, cronies, cadres and apparatchiks.
The Status Quo is desperate to mask the declining fortunes of those who earn income
from work, and the Misery Index 2.0 strips away the phony facade of bogus unemployment and
Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy (Kindle, $9.95)(print, $20)
Are you like me?
Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.
And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.
You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.
Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.
So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.
It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.
I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.
"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a
Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take
a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or
agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Gordon Long and I discuss The
New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube)
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