Summary: Skepticism of authority is an element of wisdom, but with careful encouragement can become malignant distrust of government. It’s a step towards de-legitimizing the Republic, a powerful element of a elites “divide and concquor” strategy — leaving a people with no obvious rallying point. Here we discuss an example being run on us today.
Sedition: Conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.
- De-legitimization, the step before sedition
- How accurate are the economic statistics published by the US government?
- Private sources of US economic data
- For more information
“Sedition” artwork is by Brian Thomason.
(1) De-legitimization, the step before sedition
Their vision of Federal government distinguishes Left and Right in America. The Left wishes to use Federal power to reshape society. The Right seeks to rollback domestic policy to before the New Deal. (Both parties love increases in the security services) It’s a monumental task, social engineering on a scale seldom attempted and rarely successful.
Now, after decades of well-funded propaganda, the Right nears success. How did they do this? One tactic was to de-legitimize the Federal government itself as an engine of domestic equality and prosperity. Everything the government does domestically is questioned. Building infrastructure? Wasteful! Providing vital services, such as the National Weather Services? Better privatized! Voting rights enforcement? Leave it to the States (who did so well from 1878 – 1964)!
A second form of attack is assaulting the integrity of government officials. Crooks and liars all! This allows the Right to erase the facts in many key aspects of reality and substitute their own myths. It’s a classic from the revolutionary’s handbook: step one is destroying a people’s confidence in their government. This opens them to new sources of authority — and new leadership.
Let’s examine an example of this being run on us right now.
(2) How accurate are the economic statistics published by the US government?
The proof for a claim must in some sense be commensurate with the character of the claim. Thus an extraordinary claim requires “extraordinary” (meaning stronger than usual) proof.
— Marcello Truzzi, “Zetetic Ruminations on skepticism and anomalies in science“, Zetetic Scholar, August 1987
It’s become a commonplace to hear conservatives accuse government statisticians of widespread, routine lying. When asked the basis for this belief — stated as fact — they’re unable to give the slightest evidence. Many of these people would object vehemently at any such slander against a US general or admiral — despite the many proven lies by US flag officers.
In fact, the charge is absurd.
Economic data for a developed nation cannot be faked over a long period. There are two many kinds of data of fantastic complexity, which must fit together. From too many sources (different agencies, Federal-States-locals, and private sources). Tinkering would show up, sooner or later (depending on the kind and scale of manipulation).
For example, nominal GDP tracks retail sales, taxes (eg, sales, wages, income), and many other economic series. Real GDP is a function of inflation and nominal GDP. If the government substantially understates inflation, than either real or nominal GDP quickly will look weird. Suspiciously so. If inflation was super-high for many, as some allege, than US real GDP must have dropped to depression-like levels. The US should look like Greece. It doesn’t.
That’s not to say that the statistics are perfect. Measuring the economy of our large, rapidly changing, increasingly globalized economy would be difficult under the best circumstances.
(a) The agencies collecting US economic statistics are not like DoD. No contractor-funded lobbyists to gain funding for essential, non-essential, and fanciful programs. They are grossly underfunded, and do the best they can with what resources we give them. The best way to get better economic data is to lobby your representatives to better fund these agencies.
(b) Inflation and GDP are high level abstractions. Calculating such things require a host of assumptions; it’s not like counting apples. There is no “right” way to calculate them. Any methods has problems, and will fit some economic situations better or worse than others. For some aspects of the measuring process there are no good solutions.
Being professional, government statisticians provide error estimates to most of the output, and label it as preliminary until they’ve fully matched the numbers (often months or years later — you get what you pay for).
US economic statistics have improved over time. Our theoretical understanding of econometrics has improved decade by decade, and this is reflected in their methodologies. And the government collects more and higher quality data.For example, the decennial censuses provide the only accurate data on unemployment until the early 1940s (see this for details).
The length (generations), breadth, and multiple sources of US economic data should give us confidence in these numbers, even to those skeptical (rightly so, IMO) of our government’s honesty.
One last word for those who casually call the government statistician “liars”. Go visit the nearest office where they work. Look them in the eyes and tell them they’re corrupt liars. Report back your experience in the comments.
“A good government produces citizens distinguished for courage, love of justice, and every other good quality; a bad government makes them cowardly, rapacious, and the slave of every foul desire.”
— Dionysius of Halicarnassus, c. 20 BC
(4) Private sources of economic data
A few of the many:
- ADP’s monthly employment report
- Markit purchasing manager indexes
- Website of the Billion Price Project @ MIT
- ICSC-Goldman Sachs Weekly Retails Sales Index
- The monthly American Trucking Assn tonnage report
- Association of American Railroads weekly carload report
- Monthly port import and export data (eg, Port of LA)
- Weekly Railfax Railroad car loading report
- Corporate revenue, profit, and tax data
Paul Krugman notes that the US billion price index closely matches the government data. More precisely it measures the same prices as the goods-only CPI calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- “The Billion Price Index“, 18 February 2011
- “Billion Price Update“, 2 June 2011
- “Billion Price Update“, 1 April 2012
(5) For more information
“Calculating the Unemployment Rate“, The Liscio Report, 23 January 2009 — Accurate surveys began in the 1940s.
“Addressing misconceptions about the Consumer Price Index“, John S. Greenlees and Robert B. McClelland, Monthly Labor Review, August 2008 — “A number of longstanding myths regarding the Consumer Price Index and its methods of construction continue to circulate; this article attempts to address some of the misconceptions, with an eye toward increasing public understanding of this key economic indicator” A rebuttal to critics, like ShadowStats.
Other posts about the assault on our government’s legitimacy:
- Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 1 September 2010
- Why Conservatives are winning: they use the WMD of political debate, 28 April 2011
Other propaganda and information operations run against us:
- Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
- A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
- About the political significance of the conservatives’ health care propaganda, 23 March 2010
- The similar delusions of America’s Left and Right show our common culture – and weakness, 26 March 2010
- Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
- The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, 13 April 2011
- Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011
- Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
- More use of the big lie: shifting the blame for the housing crisis, 29 December 2011