The Nomad Economist: The CPI Fails to Reflect True Inflation

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The Nomad Economist
Premiered May 24, 2021

The cost of living numbers prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are highly misleading. Currently, the government understates inflation by using a formula based on the concept of a “constant level of satisfaction” that evolved during the first half of the 20th century in academia. This extended into the BLS re-weightings sales outlets such as discount or mass merchandisers with Main Street shops. Those promoting this change claimed it was simply another way to measure inflation and it still reflected the true cost of living.

The fact is, politicians and those behind this system created it as a way to reduce the cost of living adjustments for government payments to Social Security recipients, etc. By moving to a substitution-based index and weakening other constant-standard-of-living ties those reporting inflation have muddied the water as to just how much we are being impacted by inflation. The general argument used to promote this change was that changing relative costs of goods results in consumers substituting less-expensive goods for more expensive goods.

Allowing for a substitution of goods within the formerly “fixed-basket” supposedly allows the consumer flexibility in obtaining a “constant level of satisfaction.” This adjustment to the inflation measure was touted as more appropriate for the GDP concept in measuring shifting demand and weighting actual consumption. Other tricks were also used to give the illusion of less inflation. In cases where the quality of the product are deemed by the government to be “improved” prices in the CPI, calculations are now adjusted lower to offset the higher quality. Extending this idea the Baskin Commission Report, December 4, 1996, actually used steak and chicken for its substitution example.

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