What Was Old Is Now New – The Misery Index
A Commentary by Brian C. Joondeph
History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Economic news today has a familiar rhyme, at least for those of old enough to remember the 1970s. I am not referring to John Travolta strutting down Brooklyn sidewalks to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” or big hair and leisure suits, but instead the Jimmy Carter presidency.
Carter popularized the phrase “Misery Index,” although this term was created earlier by economist Arthur Okun. It provides a simple numeric measure of how the average American is doing economically, and is easy to calculate, without even a calculator.
The Misery Index quantifies economic hardship in the economy, the degree of pain or misery current economic conditions are inflicting on the average Joe or Jane.
It is the sum of the current seasonally adjusted unemployment plus the current inflation rate, an easy addition calculation. Jimmy Carter, in his 1976 presidential campaign against incumbent Gerald Ford, bludgeoned Ford over the lackluster economy his administration presided over. In January 1975, almost two years before the election, the Misery Index soared to 19.9%.
While it dropped to 15% ahead of the election, the economy was still anemic. Another term, “stagflation” was popularized during the 1970s to describe then current economic conditions. This was a qualitative, rather than quantitative term, referring to the combination of slow economic growth and high unemployment, keeping inflation out of the calculation.
The media, just like last year, working hard on behalf of the Democrat challenger against a Republican incumbent, popularized these terms to assist Jimmy Carter winning the 1976 presidential election.
Karma bit President Carter hard. While Ford’s number almost hit 20%, Carter said, “Hold my beer” and outdid Ford, pushing the index to almost 22% in the summer before the 1980 presidential election which ushered in eight years of the Reagan revolution.
Since then, the media has had little interest in the Misery Index. But that may soon change. From Donald Trump’s pre-COVID-19 economic boom, when the Misery Index was only 5.2%, to Joe Biden doing everything he can to destroy the U.S. economy, the index is on the rise again, hitting 10.3% last month.
Inflation and unemployment are both marching upwards. The U.S. Department of Labor reported last week that the consumer price index rose 4.2% over the past year, the largest gain since 2008. April’s seasonally adjusted civilian unemployment hit 6.1%. Add those two numbers together and get the current misery index of 10.3%.
The next question is whether government numbers are accurate. One only must think of COVID-19 numbers to suggest an answer to that question.
COVID-19 case numbers were artificially high due to unreasonably high PCR cycle threshold numbers, as even the New York Times reported last summer. Then there were murder-suicides classified as COVID-19 deaths. The CDC jiggered the numbers to make then-President Trump look bad ahead of a presidential election.
Will the Biden administration’s agencies play fast and loose with inflation and unemployment numbers to keep the misery index low, not reflecting poorly on the Biden-Harris administration?
During the Clinton administration, the Boskin Commission reconfigured the inflation calculation to reduce the effect of food and fuel prices, conveniently keeping inflation numbers low during Clinton’s presidency.
What are some of the inflation figures today according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics? Gasoline is up 51%, bacon 11%, fresh fruits 7%, used cars and trucks 22%, tobacco and smoking products 7%, and airline fares 10%. Lumber prices are 130% more than a year ago.
Perhaps the real inflation number is higher than the reported 4.2%, and with it the Misery Index. Is the Biden administration doing anything to mitigate either unemployment or inflation? Crushing regulations, proposed taxes, and endless business closures are pushing unemployment up.
Spending trillions of dollars we don’t have, through “stimulus” bills, leads to too many dollars chasing too few goods, and inflation. In four months, America has gone from energy independence to gas lines.
After four years of making America great again, it’s now time to make America miserable again, resurrecting the Misery Index to quantitate how economically unhappy Americans are and will be for the foreseeable future.
What was old – the Misery Index – is now new. Don’t expect the media to say much about it as they are fixated on Lynn Cheney and Marjorie Taylor Greene. But the numbers will speak for themselves.
Another year or two of Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer in charge may push the misery index up into the 20s, allowing Biden to challenge Carter’s legacy as the worst US President in history. Biden’s rallying cry can be “Make America Miserable Again.”
Brian C Joondeph, MD, is a physician and writer. He is on sabbatical from social media.
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