The New Misery Index

Tyler Durden's picture


Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

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) relfects 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 inflation numbers.


Your rating: None

- advertisements -

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:32 | 5140673 Freddie
Freddie's picture

Hope and Chains.  Come on you progressives who still post here and who voted for this - F You!   yeah Red Team Blue Team but you still love your Kenyan.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:38 | 5140697 whstlblwr
whstlblwr's picture

the rent is too damn high

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:40 | 5140710 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Exactly. Fewer landlords (robber barrons) demanding a larger chunk of flesh from the serfs.  We have been here before.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:46 | 5140736 whstlblwr
whstlblwr's picture

The CBs are pushing for higher wages because then all will be good in the world. But if rent cost less, food cost less, gas less, there would be more money in my pocket. Money printing is forcing inflation ...the rent is too fucking damn high.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:59 | 5140762 Gaius Frakkin' ...
Gaius Frakkin' Baltar's picture

Misery is obsolete thanks to SSRIs. Hell, even torture can be fun with the right drugs.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:00 | 5141021 Cthonic
Cthonic's picture

The soma must flow.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:57 | 5140764 max2205
max2205's picture


Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:11 | 5140814 RaceToTheBottom
RaceToTheBottom's picture

Give me deflation!!!!

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:27 | 5140883 whstlblwr
whstlblwr's picture

What about the laws of supply and demand? There is no real demand.

The four basic laws of supply and demand are:

If demand increases (demand curve shifts to the right) and supply remains unchanged, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.

If demand decreases (demand curve shifts to the left) supply remains unchanged, a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.

If demand remains unchanged and supply increases (supply curve shifts to the right), a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.

If demand remains unchanged and supply decreases (supply curve shifts to the left), a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:52 | 5140987 CheapBastard
CheapBastard's picture

I'm still not sure how all these "non-farm laborers not in the working force" are able to buy all those Escalades and hop out of them after parking in the Walmart handicap parking spaces.


That battallion of the FSA has the game down solid. They'll riot before they ever lift a hammer or even a pencil.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 17:25 | 5142132 NickVegas
NickVegas's picture

Throw out your stupid rules, he who prints money out of thin air rules. That is the whole of the law.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:53 | 5140713 SafelyGraze
SafelyGraze's picture



get with the program

be happy

we all just needs to twerk it up!

good morning america 

it's ok if you throw up in your mouth a little bit

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:48 | 5140974 Kobe Beef
Kobe Beef's picture

Smells like advertising and a side of PR. With a definite whiff of decay. This is what corporate accounting sounds like.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:32 | 5140675 john39
john39's picture

the show must go on...

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:34 | 5140681 Glass Seagull
Glass Seagull's picture



Must be using ol' what's-his-name's forecasting ruler...

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:55 | 5141246 Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill's picture

Mutton Biryani.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:35 | 5140685 yogibear
yogibear's picture

As long as stocks keep going up who cares? The Federal Reserve keeps supporting stocks. Endless pump job. 

Soon the deficit should hit $18 trillion and climbing.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:35 | 5140687 NoDebt
NoDebt's picture

Real median household income, less government transfer payments (entitlements).

If you want ugly reality, that would be it.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:36 | 5140689 himaroid
himaroid's picture

Charles Hugh Smith - you da man.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:56 | 5140761 OC Sure
OC Sure's picture

Yeah, this article is not the same old song and dance. Good job.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:37 | 5140690 silentboom
silentboom's picture

America thinks production means two fruitcakes dancing around on a broadway stage.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:15 | 5140828 Colonel Klink
Colonel Klink's picture

Or one whitehouse rube on the golf course.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:19 | 5141089 hooligan2009
hooligan2009's picture

and productivity is filing for benefits and completing online shopping on your cell phone, whilst eating your mickey d's and getting your hait cut in a barber shop.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:36 | 5140694 Solio
Solio's picture

Velocity of Money; instantly created from nothing. As quickly it can return from whence it was conjured.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:37 | 5140696 ginunn
ginunn's picture

I suggest for the velocity measure use the velocity of currency in cirrculation. M2 uses the monetary base which has the built-in distortion of QE effects (high excess reserve balances).

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:04 | 5140786 Doubleguns
Doubleguns's picture

Maybe we should call this new version of Misery Index the "Death Spiral. Seems much more appropriate. 

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:38 | 5140702 Mountainview
Mountainview's picture

There is some seasonality in your first charts. Smooth it out and its a nice indicator.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:38 | 5140703 tahoebumsmith
tahoebumsmith's picture

Everything is great in this Keynesian remodel until it isn't, meaning the ponzi scheme will run out of spackle and paint and the cover up will no longer be possible. Now that we have added an additional 30 trillion to the debt crisis in the West since 2008, it should be obvious to anyone who can do simple math that this is going to end really bad...

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 17:40 | 5142189 tahoebumsmith
tahoebumsmith's picture

Great follow up post! Imagine when the FED has to raise interest rates even 1%? HA HA HA ...On like Donkey Kong

The FED is boxed into a corner and they have no clue how to get out

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:39 | 5140706 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Even though velocity is down, those paper promises do very much exist.  Just wait until the eventual claims on all those paper promises start being demanded as all stimulus is fungible.

tick tock motherfuckers...

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:45 | 5140735 FL_Conservative
FL_Conservative's picture

Until then, TPTB can relentlessly punish PM prices.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:04 | 5140790 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

"Until then, TPTB can relentlessly punish paper PM prices." - fixed.  Good luck doing the same with oil and products derived from petroleum and natural gas cracking.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:41 | 5140712 Leroy Whitby
Leroy Whitby's picture

That velocity of money chart is striking. We have the lowest . . . in history?

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:41 | 5140714 Leroy Whitby
Leroy Whitby's picture

That velocity of money chart is striking. We have the lowest . . . in history?

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:02 | 5140782 seek
seek's picture

The St. Louis FRED system only has velocity data back to Q1, 1959, and yes, we're the lowest in that data set.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:52 | 5140993 Kobe Beef
Kobe Beef's picture

I'm no economist, but that seems like a tell.

Seek, you're one of the most astute economic commenters here on ZH. Would you care to tell us your interpretation?

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:31 | 5141139 seek
seek's picture

There's a couple components to the interpretation of what's going on, but in simple terms velocity = money exchanged in period of time / total money available, ie velocity = GDP / monetary base.

The Fed prints like mad, but it goes onto bank balance sheets (and through them, the stock market, but it's basically just converting a cash asset to an equity asset on the balance sheet). This doesn't actually expand GDP, just the monetary base. So GDP is getting divided by bigger and bigger numbers, thus the velocity goes lower and lower.

If the numbers weren't gamed by the Fed, normally a lower velocity means lower economic activity -- but the numbers are being gamed, so basically all this tells us is that the monetary base is expanding at a much higher rate than production is... and in other news, the sun rose this morning.

The monetary base expansion part of this is so large it overwhelms any real changes in velocity, so we can't really tell if production or real economic activity is increasing or decreasing from velocity. The Fed's printing has made velocity useless for understanding anything about what's going on. Today this chart is effectively just an inverted chart of the monetary base.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 14:20 | 5141328 ThroxxOfVron
ThroxxOfVron's picture

"The Fed prints like mad, but it goes onto bank balance sheets (and through them, the stock market, but it's basically just converting a cash asset to an equity asset on the balance sheet). This doesn't actually expand GDP, just the monetary base."

...& beyond The FED printing there are the London repo markets that the TBTF access ( remeber Corzine's little unpunished MF Global impropriety with JPM Chase's London office? )  OR the derivatives pyramiding.


"The monetary base expansion part of this is so large it overwhelms any real changes in velocity, so we can't really tell if production or real economic activity is increasing or decreasing from velocity. The Fed's printing has made velocity useless for understanding anything about what's going on."

I concur.


Lastly: buying back equity by selling bonds is akin to paying off a due 2nd/ line of credit by folding it into a ReFi along with the primary/1st mortgage.  

IF the stock price at the time of the buy back is higher then it was at issuance then a lower interest rate may actually mask MASSIVE TIME DEFERRED LOSSES.   IMHO, the management of many of the firms buying back stock are looting the institutions and embedding horrific unrealized and/or deferred losses.

-Leverage is accelerating in the wrong direction.  The markets are NOT being cleared.

& CAP EX ???

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:36 | 5140924 Burnbright
Burnbright's picture

Well it makes sense. In a fractional reserve system most of the money created is acutally via credit growth, not FED induced money printing. Credit is the demand and growth itself, QE is in effect trying to fill the gapping hole left behind after a large credit implosion. Interest rates as well increase the amount of money in the system for retirees etc, but they killed that mechanism too.

If they simply let people default on bad loans, didn't try and make the banks whole but rather let them go through bankruptcy, you would see a very different picture. Right now all the money is being funneled to the banks and simply not really going anywhere to back stop the next margin call. And by the looks of it, their won't be enough money ever.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:43 | 5140715 MissCellany
MissCellany's picture

One problem with Smith's suggestion is that -- if the workforce participation rate is dropping over time, then naturally the percentage of "national income" going to labor will also fall.

Then, of course, the banksters and politicos would have plausible deniability, as they always do. Working people aren't facing hard times because of the .01%'s policies, but because they're simply not out there beating every burnt bush for some crap $8/hour part-time job with no benefits.

Find a way to solve for that workforce-income correlation, and maybe Smith will be on to something here.

(Edited to add: What NoDebt said above -- factor in "entitlements" somehow and that will indeed be a revealing index.)

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:43 | 5140725 orangegeek
orangegeek's picture

Barry needs a punch in the head

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:45 | 5140731 starman
starman's picture

Look at the bright side, more time to shop.

Long as you got any $$$.



Mon, 08/25/2014 - 14:50 | 5141408 Miffed Microbio...
Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Our food bill has long overtaken discretionary spending. Capital improvements have been eliminated. People ask why we have a floor rug in a strange angle in our living room. Well explain it is to remind us not to step there. We really should get a cone.


Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:45 | 5140733 blackbeardz
blackbeardz's picture

we are in the 'folks are gonna wake-the-fcuk-up soon' stage phase and see they are truly fcooked exceptionalists.

-glad i was born to witness, no one would ever believe it.

-just kiddn, way too late for anything but civil war.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:48 | 5140741 Skip
Skip's picture

I will tell you one thing this MISERY is real and in the wild.
And what is not surprising is that it is the heavy-hand of .gov causing almost all of it.

Here are some facts ALL due to .gov

Since 2000, All Employment Growth Has Gone to Immigrants

Making Money On White Displacement, With The Help Of An Iranian Immigrant

Ten years ago I worked for Ocean Tomo, which styled itself with more enthusiasm than precision as “an intellectual capital merchant bank.” Ocean Tomo’s founder and CEO, and my boss, was Jim Malackowski who drove race cars, owned the most expensive single-family house in Chicago at the time, and, being fashionably ultra-liberal, helped bankroll a promising Democratic Senate candidate he insisted on calling “Baruch” Obama.

Jim wanted to make money from white displacement. He would not have used the phrase “white displacement;” he preferred speaking of “preferences.” After all, everyone has preferences.

The United States government makes no secret of its racial preferences. It prefers to give its business to companies run by non-whites, and that increases the value of those companies. Financial markets in this country (of the “free minds and free markets” that had long been the battle-cry of the old Chicago Board of Trade) are quiveringly alert to the weight of the government’s thumb in assessing valuations. Jim (who is both white and gentile, to anticipate curiosity on that point) concluded that the government’s racial preferences could have an impact on the value of certain assets. But how to identify the assets and profit from that increased value?

And many of us know of a White woman or less commonly, a White man, who is in debt near $100k for a college degree in Education, they worked hard to be able to teach. Yet by virtue of being White and speaking English, in the land their forefathers CREATED, they are increasingly UNLIKELY to get the job. Instead Louisiana, Los Angeles, and all over the nation, Filipinos (Asians who speak spanish) are being brought in to teach and many other Latinos get BIG BONUSES to sign with a school.

Tulsa, Oklahoma: Nearly One-Third of Students Now Speak Spanish at Home

“Our Hispanic population, as of last year, is the largest racial and ethnic population across the district. So a lot of those families need that support in Spanish and we haven’t been able to find as much staff as we need. We’ve got a lot, but we need more,” said Grisso.

“It’s been critical, and we have even brought in, besides the staff we have, we’ve brought in local contractors to bring more support, because that’s where we’re seeing the largest number of enrollment is within our Spanish speaking and Hispanic populations,” said Grisso. At the enrollment center Friday, we found three different families, where the mother did not speak English and brought an older child along to translate.

“A lot of times that teenager is missing school to be here, which is unacceptable. They’re missing a day of instruction, which we know is very important, and another day they could be spending in the classroom, learning those skills in English,” said Bradley Eddy, TPS Director of Certified Talent.

“Even though we have a good number of Hispanic people in our area, we don’t have a good number of those who really sought the teaching profession or have really completed the college necessary to become that teacher,” said Eddy.

With more than 10,000 students learning English in the classroom and speaking Spanish at home, TPS leaders say they need more bilingual staff.

This year, a student who learned Spanish through the Immersion Program at Eisenhower International School, is back at the school as a teacher. TPS leaders consider that a bilingual recruitment success.

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 12:02 | 5140778 Ban KKiller
Ban KKiller's picture

But they go to school on the north side? Or Memorial? 

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:50 | 5140745 kchrisc
kchrisc's picture

All just symptoms of the FedRes Rothschild banksters' theft and ponzi and extortion and violence of their treasonous criminal and complicit DC US partners.

An American, not US subject.


"Today our misery at their hands, tomorrow their heads in our hands."

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:52 | 5140752 NEOSERF
NEOSERF's picture to keep ahead of the goal post moving, goal seeking Central Planners...

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:54 | 5140757 Species8472
Species8472's picture

You showed the 4 components, but you did not calcualte the index!


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!