Common Core

Education: A Ph.D. calls it Quits in the Race to Nowhere

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

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Published on Question Everything on June 6, 2015

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Time to Retire (from Education)?

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The Hopeless State of Education

education_race_to_nowhereIf you have been reading QE for a while you know that I have a pretty dim view of the education system in this country and increasingly being adopted around the world. The colonization of education by the same neoliberal corporate (modern capitalism) practices that have destroyed an economic system that promoted the idea of a strong middle class as a worthy goal (though why there should be any classes is my question) and hence provided jobs for the majority is destroying the very soul of education. The main themes today are 1) education is just to get people ready for the marketplace; 2) everyone needs a college-level education; and 3) teaching should be accountable. Education has always been about getting young people ready to be effective members of societies but that has meant more than just being ready to follow a particular profession. There is that whole thing that Thomas Jefferson thought was important about being informed (educated) about everything needed to be a thoughtful, knowledgeable citizen. He felt that was a prerequisite for the proper operation of democracy. In his day (and thinking) while all men might be created equal, only some men attained sufficient education to be full participants in the democratic process. Today we assert that all men and women have an equal right to participate. But, of course, the modern political process assures the new elites that that won't be the case.

My first inkling that our education system was not working as advertised came to me early when I compared my own experiences with what was being claimed about education (teaching critical thinking and all of that good-sounding stuff). Being unstoppably curious about how the world worked I launched off on my own quest for knowledge early in my school life and followed my intuitions about what sort of knowledge was really useful. That is how I ended up constructing my own curriculum in systems science since it didn't actually exist officially in schools. Fortunately, having a love of biology served me well there since most of the really interesting systems science (e.g. cybernetics) was being explicated in that realm.

http://a4.files.psmag.com/image/upload/c_fit,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTI3NTgyNTY0MDIxMDk0NDEw.jpgThe second hint I got that something was fundamentally wrong with education came when as an engineering manager, and then later as the CEO, I discovered that entry level embedded systems developers were ill-prepared for doing any actual engineering. I won't bore you with details but the problem came down to several employees that had graduated from pretty well thought of programs could not actually solve engineering problems. They had done well in school (grades) and interviewed well regarding some technical issues, but when it came to delivering the goods they simply could not synthesize their disparate pieces of knowledge or even analyze the problem to formulate a solution. I ended up finishing their projects for them and they ultimately ended up on the street. I was curious as to why a couple of young, and seemingly intelligent, engineers, with official degrees were so incapable of basic skills (including communications with other engineers and supervisors). I took a quick survey of the histories of my older engineers who were doing well at those tasks. It turned out that of all four of the other design engineers, only one had an "official" degree in electrical engineering and the other three were, like me, self-taught on embedded systems, control theory, filtering theory, etc. I can't generalize to all engineering schools on the basis of my own sample, of course, but it did make me aware that anomalies were possible.

Once I became part of the professoriate I began to see more clearly where at least one problem lay. As I have railed on about before, I repeatedly witnessed PhDs who were supposed to be among the smartest people on the planet and who, I presume, when working on problems strictly within their silos could exercise critical thinking and investigate the backgrounds of those problems, when faced with other issues, such as university governance, seemed to more often than not fall back on emotion-based opinions. Professors will be the first to tell you that they teach students critical thinking skills. Yet they failed many times to exercises such skills outside of their specialties. This observation is based on having interacted on more than several occasions with committees that were dealing with more global problems in education, such as governance and especially strategic management, areas where I had developed a good deal of background knowledge (e.g. I did my homework to make sure I knew something about the subject), and witnessed first hand people offering opinions and making various claims that I knew to be bogus. I wondered often how they had developed their opinions. And when I asked for evidence I got push back. One of the prime tenants of critical thinking is that it involves the use of unbiased evidence.

Recent studies of critical thinking capacity of college graduates have produced the shocking (to the professoriate) results that graduates show almost no improvement over their capacities when entering school. There was a flurry of discussion on various academia venues when the results were first published, but the cacophony has died down to a barely audible whimper now. The professoriate will go on with their practices and basically ignore those results. Don't look for much in the way of reform anytime soon.

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I have also railed on about the problems with professional administration. This has been the single biggest point of contact between neoliberal corporatism and education. Professional administrators have no choice but to act like corporate managers in their methods. To have any “career” potential they have to do what corporate bosses have done throughout history — they have to expand their fiefdoms in order to look important and fluff their resumes in preparation for moving to the next position. Professional academic administrators (those who left teaching to take on “important” jobs as deans (and their many associates) or provosts (and their many associates)) are faced with the same situation. Google “high cost of education” and “administration” and you will turn up numerous studies that have identified the rising costs of education to the expansion of administration (also look for “administration bloat”), the pattern of top administrators' pay, and administrator turnover rates. You can also dig into the other costs that administrators generate through their corporatized notion of competing with other colleges for students by building luxury dorms, etc. Several studies point to the idea that more than 50% of rate of increases in costs (and hence tuitions) can be laid at the feet of administration.

But it is even worse than that. Administrators have bought into the whole idea of teaching accountability and retention. The first I will address below as it impacts what has happened to our K-12 education system. The idea behind retention is what really gets me. The question I have asked repeatedly is why do we believe that college is for everybody? And why do we (the professoriate) have to find ways to keep everybody who gets admitted in their programs? Is it true that everyone has the same basic intellectual capacities? Or should we turn our four-year academic institutions into the new high schools and dumb everything down so that everyone can succeed. We can always change the definition of success in academics to achieve this goal.

Unfortunately it goes way beyond a college-for-everyone mentality based on thinking everyone can and should do advanced academic work. Do administrators really believe that everyone is intellectually above average? No it has to do with dollars, tuition dollars specifically (these days). Administrators need a growing revenue stream just as if they were running a for-profit outfit that needed to maximize shareholder value (a core principle of the neoliberal agenda). They have fallen into the “growth is good” fallacy trap. In pursuing growth for growth sake they have overseen the creation of all sorts of “professional” degree programs for career categories that used to be handled well enough by trade schools so that they could “capitalize” on the larger population of potential students who were not interested in solving differential equations or plumbing the depths of the human mind, but would love to say they have a college degree in restaurant and hotel management. It might very well take four years of more education to in fact qualify for restaurant and hotel management, but does it really need any “intellectual” pursuit. I realize, by the way, that this is definitely not PC in this day and age. But what the hell? This post is about retirement so I don't really give a damn.

As Attacked from Above, So from Below

The whole education system is in a nosedive from the positive feedbacks instilled by neoliberal capitalism in the corporatized model operating on education through professional administration. I've had a career of dodging bullets shot from above. I've a reputation as something of a trouble maker among certain high officials! But I had been reasonably successful working with students who were open to the idea that learning was not a process of stuffing their heads with facts (my job) as much as learning the skills of self-teaching so that they could become truly autonomous agents in their future lives. There were always a small majority of such students in my mostly upper division classes who responded to my methods (and of course a minority who already thought of themselves as “customers” who were buying my services to stuff knowledge into their heads!). I labored for the sake of those who got it, knowing that they would go on to succeed in the real world. Over the years I have had many e-mails from some of those students acknowledging that fact.

Education-FAILING REPORT CARD-2I took my lumps from student evaluations from the disgruntled (who seem to be the ones most eager to fill out the forms!) because I knew, even if they didn't, that what I was doing, though it didn't fit the mold of education they had grown used to (and had learned how to game successfully), would eventually surface in their lives and help them become successful in spite of their grumbling about me as a teacher. I've gotten numerous e-mails from former students in this category as well who have recognized that the things I made them do were really the things they needed to learn in order to succeed. I was able to get tenure on the basis of my research and sufficiently good student evaluations. I confess, however, that in the years leading up to getting tenure I did lighten up a bit on my classes. I did this somewhat subconsciously because of the pressure to not get bad reviews if I wanted tenure (another little way administrators have gained power over the professoriate over the years). But I did eventually recognize that I was leaning toward winning popularity contests (I was voted as best computer science professor by the student body twice during that time!) and once I was tenured I consciously made an effort to reestablish my standards. Not surprisingly, student evaluations went back down again (however, I taught a number of specialty courses, such as in our Global Honors program where my evals were way high – but then I was working with extremely bright students who loved being challenged).

In the last few years, however, I have noticed a definite shift in the majority of student attitudes toward education, what it means, how it should work, etc. My first eye opener was teaching a freshman class (what we called our “Core” courses for general studies) in systems science last year (winter quarter). I had taught the very same course the year before with very good results and high student evaluations (as well as good peer reviews). Eighteen year olds are still immature in many ways so you have to work with them differently, but they responded well to my problem/project based approach and I only had two students, out of 24, who did not make it grade-wise. But last year's crop were quite different. Their attendance was horrible (we are disallowed to use attendance in grading!), they constantly talked to one another during my lectures, they openly texted or played games on their computers. Some of them freely admitted they didn't like science period.

My first thought, and something I conferred with the program chair about, was that somehow I had just gotten an unlucky draw. It does happen from time to time that you get a class that has a peculiar personality, i.e. the majority are problematic or extra good. So I chalked this experience up to that fluke. About three quarters into the course I finally gave up trying to stick to the curriculum as planned and turned it into a completely project oriented class so they could talk all they wanted but they had to contribute to their team's work or be penalized. That helped with the attendance a bit. I had a heart-to-heart talk with them with only a week left to go in the quarter. I was frank and so were they. I tried to get at why they were not taking this class seriously and they told me flat out. What they understood as education is I was supposed to tell them what parts of the book would be on the exam and give them practice homework on the same kinds of questions that would be on the exam. I asked them how they came to believe that that was the way education was supposed to work and they told me. That is how it worked in high school (and apparently also in several of their other freshman classes at our campus). I was stunned but still was inclined to chalk it up to bad luck in the draw.

But this last year I experienced something I was completely unprepared for. Many of the seniors in my engineering classes and this last quarter a batch of juniors, had very negative responses to my approach to problem/project-based learning (which involves discovery and experimentation which has been shown to improve context grasp and long-term retention of knowledge). The subjects of these courses are among the most challenging on our campus (maybe quantum physics would be more challenging). So students do need to work much harder to explore the space of solutions. It requires much more autonomous thinking than lower-division courses (especially, for instance, math courses). I also taught two junior-level computer science classes in fall and winter quarter and found some of the same attitudinal problems that I'd seen in the Core course freshman the year before. Needless to say I found this interesting and distressing.

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My reviews are in from my engineering courses and I must tell you they were really bad. Most accused me of not teaching at all. And they definitely complained about the amount of work they needed to do to solve the problems. But here is the irony. They all succeeded in doing so, and whether they realize it or not, they learned a huge amount of really useful knowledge in a short period of time and can expect to carry that knowledge far into their futures. They just hated the process and could not grasp what my role in the process was. And here is another ironic fact. This year we had more of these seniors succeed in getting very good jobs with name recognition companies than in prior years. Every one of them reported to me that they did well in their interviews because they actually knew stuff and could think through the solution for tough problems! On top of that I had a recruiter at one of these companies ask me to send more of our seniors her way because the interviewing managers had said our soon-to-be graduates were more prepared than any they had seen from other, supposedly top engineering programs. Go figure. I want students to realize that they have the power to figure things out on their own, and the only way they will understand that is to do it and prove to themselves they have it. But it would also be nice if they recognized that they got that because I set up the situations that allowed them to do so. That, apparently, was not to be.

Whenever the world doesn't work the way I expected it to I start wondering why and start digging into background to educate myself. I read a number of critiques of problem-project based learning (P2-BL) and where it was considered as failing because the students didn't like it. One study found that students who had been immersed in K-12 education in which No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had resulted in a huge increase in teaching to the test pedagogy were the most averse to P2-BL methods. The idea of becoming an autonomous learner did not fit their model of what education was about and they resisted learning a new model. In another similar study they found that not only were students from NCLB affected schools averse, but that miraculously they had actually learned more and retained longer than students who continued on in the NCLB framework. Both of these studies involved looking at high schools that had converted to P2-BL methods (they still had to give standardized tests, which is how they knew that students had actually learned more). One of these schools has since reverted because of problems not only with student attitudes but with teachers having problems with the pedagogy; it is quite hard to come up with meaningful problems and projects in which you can identify the points in which students will have succeeded in learning if they actually do solve the problem (and making the problems solvable but still challenging).

It has been fourteen years since NCLB and the increasing emphasis on standardized, high-stakes testing became the law of the land (2001). The K-12 system has been struggling with the ramifications ever since. But now students who have spent their entire educational lives in that environment are hitting the upper division courses in college. Even those students who are a bit older, who went to community colleges before transferring to our campus, have spent a good portion if not all of their high school lives in it. Based on my experiences this year I would hypothesize that the attitudes we are seeing in the university are much the same as those found in the above mentioned studies.

By happenstance I ran into a couple of high school history teachers in my favorite neighborhood pub. We got to chatting about challenges in teaching and student attitudes toward learning. Suffice it to say they reinforced my presumptions quite strongly. Both were more mature teachers, having been doing it for more than twenty years. And both were livid about the degradation in the whole educational environment as a result of the teaching-to-the-test mentality which now permeates their school (and apparently most of the others as they had talked to colleagues in other high schools in the area). One of them told me he was advising his daughter (who was going to college) to not go into education as it had become a death trap. Both agreed that when they had first started it was a pretty good vocation and the students' attitudes on all counts were generally pretty good. Now both of them had lost the faith and described their attitudes as just putting in the years until they could retire. Very sad.

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More recently we've seen a growing backlash among parents (and some ideologues, for the wrong reasons of course) to the Common Core and the “Race to the Top” federal program. With the Common Core standards the emphasis on more standardized testing and the high stakes of missing out on federal grants if the scores are not adequate are combining to raise the stress levels on young students even more. It is so ironic that lawmakers, eager to reform and improve education are passing laws that have the exact opposite effects. But, once again, this is the effect of neoliberal capitalism and corporatism on thinking about education and the idea of “accountability” being the way to cause improvement in the process (particularly teaching). I do not deny that the teaching profession has its problems with bad teachers and phenomena such as I described at the start about critical thinking. So I do understand the desire to find ways to bring these problems to light and take some form of appropriate corrective action to fix things (I, for one, would suggest getting rid of teachers' unions might be a start, or at least revamp the union governance so that it doesn't knee jerk protect clearly substandard teachers). But then letting corporatists in to design the solutions is not the way to do this. For starters the ideas surrounding measures of teaching effectiveness are poorly understood, actually not even really defined. The fall back onto student evaluations by administrators is an intellectually dishonest, and lazy way out for college administration. Unfortunately even much of the professoriate has bought into this mechanism because few of them really have time anymore to do extensive peer reviews (they are pushed more and more into spending time in research instead of finding ways to help their colleagues improve their teaching effectiveness).

Many a psychologists (of learning) have pointed out over and over that the effects of teaching are extremely subtle and cannot be measured in any direct way. We can, of course, determine when teachers are simply not doing their jobs. There are numerous “behaviors” associated with this that can be easily determined. The problem is that we can't really say what effect teaching styles have on learning and retention. Even more importantly we cannot determine the degree of understanding that students obtain from interactions with teachers. The only meaningful definition of teaching (or education) effectiveness is in terms of how successful, in many dimensions, a person is in life several years after graduation. How successful are they at getting meaningful employment, after factoring out effects of the economy on employment opportunities? Specifically, if they went through a program like ours (engineering and computer science) where technical knowhow and know-what is important, are they capable of solving typical problems in their work several years after graduation? And, that means are they on average as a group doing so?

By that measure a number of people are arguing that education is failing. By implication it must be the teaching that is poor. Actually many of my colleagues lament the poor preparation for college level work in our freshmen so they put the blame on high schools (who pass the buck to the K-8 system!) But employers are forever pounding on politicians that our colleges are failing to adequately prepare graduates for the real world. And, based on what I have witnessed I agree with them. Unfortunately their solution is to make schools and teachers accountable through measures of teaching effectiveness that are not known to correlate. It is fast, convenient and, unfortunately, part of a positive feedback loop that is blowing up the very fabric of education. The sad part is that it cannot be fixed. The more failure on the part of education the more pressure will come for accountability which, in turn, simply causes teaching practices to get worse.

Caught in the Middle

The real root cause of the cycle of destruction is the lack of critical thinking by all of the players, administrators, teachers, students (who might be forgiven when they are young), and the rest of society but especially the business people and politicians. Everyone is looking for a miracle cure, an easy way out, something that can be done fast and cheap but produce the right results. Once again I come back to the lack of sapience in the species. That lack prevents people from using holistic systems thinking and long-term strategic thinking to realize they must work hard to develop wise decisions about education. And once again my thesis about how the quality of high sapience is so missing from our species is further demonstrated. Without it, all of the decision agents in this complex system will continue to make mistake after mistake, thinking they are doing the right thing but unable to see the real consequences of their “solutions”. I would never accuse George W. Bush of having good intentions per se, but I'm sure he thought NCLB was a cure for what ailed failing schools (whatever that means). So he and Congress waved a magic wand and created a monster that would show itself more fully fourteen years later. Congratulations Mr. former president. Yet another example of your ideology trumping wisdom.

Fortunately for me I don't have to fight this any more. I and my colleagues all over the country are caught in the middle of the stresses from above (administration) and from below (students' growing insolent attitudes). I've paid my dues. I've accomplished a few academic things of use. I thought I had struck teaching gold with the P2-BL approach. There for a few years it was producing results in student learning. I could directly measure this because I taught a series of courses in a prerequisite chain where I could see the end effects of teaching a cohort with this approach. In the last course those students had, in fact, learned considerably more in the first courses and had retained it better in the last course. Of course many of them grumbled in the first course in the series because this was their first exposure to P2-BL methods and they had to acclimatize. But by the third course the grumbling had stopped and my teaching evals generally reflected their liking the approach and their attaining a sense of learning autonomy. But these last two years everything has turned to mud.

I could, of course, do what I did when I was up for tenure. It really is easy to game this system by doing exactly what the students expect and want. It makes their lives so much easier and that keeps them happy. This is what my superiors are suggesting. But I can't do that in good conscience knowing what I know. I can't seem to explain it to people. After all the students have been conditioned (I do provide reading pointers that should make them aware of what it is about, but they don't follow pointers). So have the professors. The standard pedantic/didactic lecture-textbook-homework-tests pedagogy has been around a very long time. And all of us have been through it. It is the norm. It is what everybody does, so it must be right. Yet we are failing.

And administrators are just looking for an easy way to hold people accountable. In all of my years of teaching never once has an administrator above the level of a department chair come into my classroom or visited me in my office for a chat about teaching and learning. Once they achieve a high-sounding title they are above that. They are important and have important decisions to make so have no time for walking around and finding out what is actually happening on the ground.

All of this adds up to one thing for me. I'm leaving the profession. I had a pretty good run. There for a while it was extremely satisfying. And a few years ago I thought I would stay in the game till I dropped. But what I see happening now (and, by the way, the rate of decay seems to me to be increasing) just doesn't sit right. I will probably do one more year since I have some graduate student obligations and have two conference papers and a journal paper in preparation that I want the university to pay for(!) But then I kiss it goodbye.

In truth, this is the longest time I've been in a single profession! I've had a lot of different careers in my life. Each one has taught me a lot, and I've been able to leverage my grasp of systems to succeed fairly well in all of them (got fired only once from a “transient” job because the boss and I got into a big argument!). My pattern was to switch to something new when I felt I had reached some kind of upper bound in terms of what I could learn and try out. This time it has more to do with the deterioration of the system that makes it hard to learn anything new (like P2-B learning and how to refine it). It has turned into a situation of finding out what the new battle to fight today is, even if the older battles are still being waged. The growth mentality I mentioned above is another factor. The last several years our department has done multiple multiple-person searches for lecturers and tenure-track faculties. We've been in constant search mode (which is extremely taxing) and continuous mentoring of new people mode (which has been marginally successful). And we have not done a particularly good job of either. I had been making idle threats about retiring for a few years in order to spur the department finding several people who could teach the courses I teach, since I knew I would either retire or drop dead one of these days and the department would be hurting when that happened if it didn't bring in some new, younger people to take over. But that search failed because a certain administrator wouldn't listen to the engineering members of the search committee. So now we have to do it all over again.

I'm not so tired that I can't fight a good fight. But I'm not so foolish (shall we say quixotic) to fight a battle that is not winnable no matter what. And this one is just that. Besides I will more likely go off to another career. I have one book published, one ready for review, and a third in process. So I will at least be writing more about systems science and its applications to all of these problems (one of which is education). Who knows? Maybe working from the outside might be more productive.

The Fourteen Year Recession

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on March 24, 2014

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Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

“When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”Napoleon Bonaparte

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“A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is privately concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men … [W]e have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated, governments in the civilized world—no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men.”Woodrow Wilson

When you ponder the implications of allowing a small group of powerful wealthy unaccountable men to control the currency of a nation over the last one hundred years, you understand why our public education system sucks. You understand why the government created Common Core curriculum teaches children that 3 x 4 = 13, as long as you feel good about your answer. George Carlin was right. The owners of this country (bankers, billionaires, corporate titans, politicians) want more for themselves and less for everyone else. They want an educational system that creates ignorant, obedient, vacuous, obese dullards who question nothing, consume mass quantities of corporate processed fast food, gaze at iGadgets, are easily susceptible to media propaganda and compliant to government regulations and directives. They don’t want highly educated, critical thinking, civil minded, well informed, questioning citizens understanding how badly they have been screwed over the last century. I’m sorry to say, your owners are winning in a landslide.

The government controlled public education system has flourished beyond all expectations of your owners. We’ve become a nation of techno-narcissistic, math challenged, reality TV distracted, welfare entitled, materialistic, gluttonous, indebted consumers of Chinese slave labor produced crap. There are more Americans who know the name of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s bastard child (North West) than know the name of our Secretary of State (Ketchup Kerry). Americans can generate a text or tweet with blinding speed but couldn’t give you change from a dollar bill if their life depended upon it. They are whizzes at buying crap on Amazon or Ebay with a credit card, but have never balanced their checkbook or figured out the concept of deferred gratification and saving for the future. While the ignorant masses are worked into a frenzy by the media propaganda machine over gay marriage, diversity, abortion, climate change, and never ending wars on poverty, drugs and terror, our owners use their complete capture of the financial, regulatory, political, judicial and economic systems to pillage the remaining national wealth they haven’t already extracted.

The financial illiteracy of the uneducated lower classes and the willful ignorance of the supposedly highly educated classes has never been more evident than when examining the concept of Federal Reserve created currency debasement – also known as inflation. The insidious central banker created monetary inflation is the cause of all the ills in our warped, deformed, rigged financialized economic system. The outright manipulation and falsity of government reported economic data is designed to obscure the truth and keep the populace unaware of the deception being executed by the owners of this country. They have utilized deceit, falsification, propaganda and outright lies to mislead the public about the true picture of the disastrous financial condition in this country. Since most people are already trapped in the mental state of normalcy bias, it is easy for those in control to reinforce that normalcy bias by manipulating economic data to appear normal and using their media mouthpieces to perpetuate the false storyline of recovery and a return to normalcy.

This is how feckless politicians and government apparatchiks are able to add $2.8 billion per day to the national debt; a central bank owned by Too Big To Trust Wall Street banks has been able to create $3.3 trillion out of thin air and pump it into the veins of its owners; and government controlled agencies report a declining unemployment rate, no inflation and a growing economy, without creating an iota of dissent or skepticism from the public. Americans want to be lied to because it allows them to continue living lives of delusion, where spending more than you make, consuming rather than saving, and believing stock market speculation and home price appreciation will make them rich are viable life strategies. Even though 90% of the population owns virtually no stocks, they are convinced record stock market highs are somehow beneficial to their lives. They actually believe Bernanke/Yellen when they bloviate about the dangers of deflation. Who would want to pay less for gasoline, food, rent, or tuition?

Unless you are beholden to the oligarchs, that sense of stress, discomfort, feeling that all in not well, and disturbing everyday visual observations is part of the cognitive dissonance engulfing the nation. Anyone who opens their eyes and honestly assesses their own financial condition, along with the obvious deterioration of our suburban sprawl retail paradise infrastructure, is confronted with information that is inconsistent with what they hear from their bought off politician leaders, highly compensated Ivy League trained economists, and millionaire talking heads in the corporate legacy media. Most people resolve this inconsistency by ignoring the facts, rejecting the obvious and refusing to use their common sense. To acknowledge the truth would require confronting your own part in this Ponzi debt charade disguised as an economic system. It is easier to believe a big lie than think critically and face up to decades of irrational behavior and reckless conduct.

What’s In Your GDP                          

“The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one of the broader measures of economic activity and is the most widely followed business indicator reported by the U.S. government. Upward growth biases built into GDP modeling since the early 1980s, however, have rendered this important series nearly worthless as an indicator of economic activity.  The popularly followed number in each release is the seasonally adjusted, annualized quarterly growth rate of real (inflation-adjusted) GDP, where the current-dollar number is deflated by the BEA’s estimates of appropriate price changes. It is important to keep in mind that the lower the inflation rate used in the deflation process, the higher will be the resulting inflation-adjusted GDP growth.”John Williams – Shadowstats

GDP is the economic statistic bankers, politicians and media pundits use to convince the masses the economy is growing and their lives are improving. Therefore, it is the statistic most likely to be manipulated, twisted and engineered in order to portray the storyline required by the oligarchs. Two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth usually marks a recession. Those in power do not like to report recessions, so data “massaging” has been required over the last few decades to generate the required result. Prior to 1991 the government reported the broader GNP, which includes the GDP plus the balance of international flows of interest and dividend payments. Once we became a debtor nation, with massive interest payments to foreigners, reporting GNP became inconvenient. It is not reported because it is approximately $900 billion lower than GDP. The creativity of our keepers knows no bounds. In July of 2013 the government decided they had found a more “accurate” method for measuring GDP and simply retroactively increased GDP by $500 billion out of thin air. It’s amazing how every “more accurate” accounting adjustment improves the reported data. The economic growth didn’t change, but GDP was boosted by 3%. These adjustments pale in comparison to the decades long under-reporting of inflation baked into the GDP calculation.

As John Williams pointed out, GDP is adjusted for inflation. The higher inflation factored into the calculation, the lower reported GDP. The deflator used by the BEA in their GDP calculation is even lower than the already bastardized CPI. According to the BEA, there has only been 32% inflation since the year 2000. They have only found 1.4% inflation in the last year and only 7.1% in the last five years. You’d have to be a zombie from the Walking Dead or an Ivy League economist to believe those lies. Anyone living in the real world knows their cost of living has risen at a far greater rate. According to the government, and unquestioningly reported by the compliant co-conspirators in the the corporate media, GDP has grown from $10 trillion in 2000 to $17 trillion today. Even using the ridiculously low inflation BEA adjustment yields an increase from $12.4 trillion to only $15.9 trillion in real terms. That pitiful 28% growth over the last fourteen years is dramatically overstated, as revealed in the graph below. Using a true rate of inflation exposes the grand fraud being committed by those in power. The country has been in a never ending recession since 2000.

Your normalcy bias is telling you this is impossible. Your government tells you we have only experienced a recession from the third quarter of 2008 through the third quarter of 2009. So despite experiencing two stock market crashes, the greatest housing crash in history, and a worldwide financial system implosion the authorities insist  we’ve had a growing economy 93% of the time over the last fourteen years. That mental anguish you are feeling is the cognitive dissonance of wanting to believe your government, but knowing they are lying. It is a known fact the government, in conspiracy with Greenspan, Congress and academia, have systematically reduced the reported CPI based upon hedonistic quality adjustments, geometric weighting alterations, substitution modifications, and the creation of incomprehensible owner’s equivalent rent calculations. Since the 1700s consumer inflation had been estimated by measuring price changes in a fixed-weight basket of goods, effectively measuring the cost of maintaining a constant standard of living. This began to change in the early 1980s with the Greenspan Commission to “save” Social Security and came to a head with the Boskin Commission in 1995.

Simply stated, the Greenspan/Boskin Commissions’ task was to reduce future Social Security payments to senior citizens by deceitfully reducing CPI and allowing politicians the easy way out. Politicians would lose votes if they ever had to directly address the unsustainability of Social Security. Therefore, they allowed academics to work their magic by understating the CPI and stealing $700 billion from retirees in the ten years ending in 2006. With 10,000 baby boomers per day turning 65 for the next eighteen years, understating CPI will rob them of trillions in payments. This is a cowardly dishonest method of extending the life of Social Security.

If CPI was calculated exactly as it was computed prior to 1983, it would have averaged between 5% and 10% over the last fourteen years. Even computing it based on the 1990 calculation prior to the Boskin Commission adjustments, would have produced annual inflation of 4% to 7%. A glance at an inflation chart from 1872 through today reveals the complete and utter failure of the Federal Reserve in achieving their stated mandate of price stability. They have managed to reduce the purchasing power of your dollar by 95% over the last 100 years. You may also notice the net deflation from 1872 until 1913, when the American economy was growing rapidly. It is almost as if the Federal Reserve’s true mandate has been to create inflation, finance wars, perpetuate the proliferation of debt, artificially create booms and busts, enrich their Wall Street owners, and impoverish the masses. Happy Birthday Federal Reserve!!!

Click to View

When you connect the dots you realize the under-reporting of inflation benefits the corporate fascist surveillance state. If the government was reporting the true rate of inflation, mega-corporations would be forced to pay their workers higher wages, reducing profits, reducing corporate bonuses, and sticking a pin in their stock prices. The toady economists at the Federal Reserve would be unable to sustain their ludicrous ZIRP and absurd QEfinity stock market levitation policies. Reporting a true rate of inflation would force long-term interest rates higher. These higher rates, along with higher COLA increases to government entitlements, would blow a hole in the deficit and force our spineless politicians to address our unsustainable economic system. There would be no stock market or debt bubble. If the clueless dupes watching CNBC bimbos and shills on a daily basis were told the economy has been in fourteen year downturn, they might just wake up and demand accountability from their leaders and an overhaul of this corrupt system.

Mother Should I Trust the Government?

We know the BEA has deflated GDP by only 32% since 2000. We know the BLS reports the CPI has only risen by 37% since 2000. Should I trust the government or trust the facts and my own eyes? The data is available to see if the government figures pass the smell test. If you are reading this, you can remember your life in 2000. Americans know what it cost for food, energy, shelter, healthcare, transportation and entertainment in 2000, but they unquestioningly accept the falsified inflation figures produced by the propaganda machine known as our government. The chart below is a fairly comprehensive list of items most people might need to live in this world. A critical thinking individual might wonder how the government can proclaim inflation of 32% to 37% over the last fourteen years, when the true cost of living has grown by 50% to 100% for most daily living expenses. The huge increases in property taxes, sales taxes, government fees, tolls and income taxes aren’t even factored in the chart. It seems gold has smelled out the currency debasement and the lies of our leaders. This explains the concerted effort by the powers that be to suppress the price of gold by any means necessary.

 

Living Expense

Jan-00

Mar-14

% Increase

Gallon of gas

$1.27

$3.51

176.4%

Barrel of oil

$24.11

$100.00

314.8%

Fuel oil per gallon

$1.19

$4.07

242.0%

Electricity per Kwh

$0.084

$0.134

59.5%

Gas per therm

$0.712

$1.078

51.4%

Dozen eggs

$0.97

$2.00

106.2%

Coffee per lb

$3.40

$5.20

52.9%

Ground Beef per lb.

$1.90

$3.73

96.3%

Postage stamp

$0.33

$0.49

48.5%

Movie ticket

$5.25

$10.25

95.2%

New car

$20,300.00

$31,500.00

55.2%

Annual healthcare spending per capita

$4,550.00

$9,300.00

104.4%

Average private college tuition

$22,000.00

$37,000.00

68.2%

Avg home price (Case Shiller)

$161,000.00

$242,000.00

50.3%

Avg monthly rent (Case Shiller)

$635.00

$890.00

40.2%

Ounce of gold

$279.00

$1,334.00

378.1%

Mother, you should not trust the government. There is no doubt they have systematically under-reported inflation based on any impartial assessment of the facts. The reality that we remain stuck in a fourteen year recession is borne out by the continued decline in vehicle miles driven (at 1995 levels) due to declining commercial activity, the millions of shuttered small businesses, and the proliferation of Space Available signs in strip malls and office parks across the land. The fact there are only 8 million more people employed today than were employed in 2000, despite the working age population growing by 35 million, might be a clue that we remain in recession. If that isn’t enough proof for you, than maybe a glimpse at real median household income, retail sales and housing will put the final nail in the coffin of your cognitive dissonance.

The government and their media mouthpieces expect the ignorant masses to believe they have advanced their standard of living, with median household income growing from $40,800 to $52,500 since 2000. But, even using the badly flawed CPI to adjust these figures into real terms reveals real median household income to be 7.3% below the level of 2000. Using a true inflation figure would cause a CNBC talking head to have an epileptic seizure.

Click to View

The picture is even bleaker when broken down into the age of households, with younger households suffering devastating real declines in household income since 2000. I guess all those retail clerk, cashier, waitress, waiter, food prep, and housekeeper jobs created over the last few years aren’t cutting the mustard. Maybe that explains the 30 million increase (175% increase) in food stamp recipients since 2000, encompassing 19% of all households in the U.S. Luckily the banking oligarchs were able to convince the pliable masses to increase their credit card, auto and student loan debt from $1.5 trillion to $3.1 trillion over the fourteen year descent into delusion.

When you get your head around this unprecedented decline in household income over the last fourteen years, along with the 50% to 100% rise in costs to live in the real world, as opposed to the theoretical world of the Federal Reserve and BLS, you will understand the long term decline in retail sales reflected in the following chart. When you adjust monthly retail sales for gasoline (an additional tax), inflation (understated), and population growth, you understand why retailers are closing thousands of stores and hurdling towards inevitable bankruptcy. Retail sales are 6.9% below the June 2005 peak and 4% below levels reached in 2000. And this is with millions of retail square feet added over this time frame. We know the dramatic surge from the 2009 lows was not prompted by an increase in household income. So how did the 11% proliferation of spending happen?

Click to View

The up swell in retail spending began to accelerate in late 2010. Considering credit card debt outstanding is at exactly where it was in October 2010, it seems consumers playing with their own money turned off the spigot of speculation. It has been non-revolving debt that has skyrocketed from $1.63 trillion in February 2010 to $2.26 trillion today. This unprecedented 39% rise in four years has been engineered by the government, using your tax dollars and the tax dollars of unborn generations. The Federal government has complete control of the student loan market and with their 85% ownership of Ally Financial, the largest auto financing company, a dominant position in the auto loan market. The peddling of $400 billion of subprime student loan debt and $200 billion of subprime auto loan debt has created the illusion of a retail recovery. The student loan debt has been utilized by University of Phoenix MBA wannabes  to buy iGadgets, the latest PS3 version of Grand Theft Auto and the latest glazed donut breakfast sandwich on the market. It’s nothing but another debt financed bubble that will end in tears for the American taxpayer, as hundreds of billions will be written off.

The fake retail recovery pales in comparison to the wolves of Wall Street produced housing recovery sham. They deserve an Academy Award for best fantasy production. The Federal Reserve fed Wall Street hedge fund purchase of millions of foreclosed shanties across the nation has produced media proclaimed home price increases of 10% to 30% in cities across the country. Withholding foreclosures from the market and creating artificial demand with free money provided by the Federal Reserve has temporarily added $4 trillion of housing net worth and reduced the number of underwater mortgages on the books of the Too Big To Trust Wall Street banks. The percentage of investor purchases and cash purchases is at all-time highs, while the percentage of first time buyers is at all-time lows. Anyone with an ounce of common sense can look at the long-term chart of mortgage applications and realize we are still in a recession. Applications are 35% below levels at the depths of the 2008/2009 recession. Applications are 65% below levels at the housing market peak in 2005. They are even 35% below 2000 levels. There is no real housing recovery, despite the propaganda peddled by the NAR, CNBC, and Wall Street. It’s a fraud.

It is the pinnacle of arrogance and hubris that a few Ivy League educated economists sitting in the Marriner Eccles Building in the swamps of Washington D.C., who have never worked a day in their lives at a real job, think they can create wealth and pull the levers of money creation to control the American and global financial systems. All they have done is perfect the art of bubble finance in order to enrich their owners at the expense of the rest of us. Their policies have induced unwarranted hope and speculation on a grand scale. Greenspan and Bernanke have provoked multiple bouts of extreme speculation in stocks and housing over the last 15 years, with the subsequent inevitable collapses. Fed encouraged gambling does not create wealth it just redistributes it from the peasants to the aristocracy. The Fed has again produced an epic bubble in stock and bond valuations which will result in another collapse. Normalcy bias keeps the majority from seeing the cliff straight ahead. Federal Reserve monetary policies have distorted financial markets, created extreme imbalances, encouraged excessive risk taking, and ruined the lives of working class people. Take a long hard look at the chart below and answer one question. Was QE designed to benefit Main Street or Wall Street?

The average American has experienced a fourteen year recession caused by the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve. Our leaders could have learned the lesson of two Fed induced collapses in the space of eight years and voluntarily abandoned the policies of reckless credit expansion, instead embracing policies encouraging saving, capital investment and balanced budgets. They have chosen the same cure as the disease, which will lead to crisis, catastrophe and collapse.

“There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.” – Ludwig von Mises

 

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