Inflation investigation

Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture points out a BreakingViews column that questions whether the government is low-balling the inflation rate.

We don’t have access to the $1,500 a year Web site (they’re so protective of their content, they won’t even let you copy text from their limited previews. Sort of the opposite, and we presume more profitable, tack of the newspapers), and typically only read its daily column on the back of the WSJ’s Money & Investing section.

But it’s smart as usual and raises an interesting point: Does it seem to you like inflation is only running at four percent a year (that’s including energy and food costs), as the Bureau of Labor Statistics says it is? Here’s Ritholtz:

I have been trying to wrap my head around how the US is enjoying such modest inflation, while Eurozone and Asia are both stricken with much more robust price rises.

As I was mulling this over, Martin Hutchinson reminded us that BLS changed its methodology this year for seasonal adjustments. Hmmm, I wonder if that had any impact?

Hutchinson says without the newfangled seasonal adjustment method, adopted just three months ago, the March annualized inflation rate would have been about nine percent—much higher than the four percent the BLS reported.

The San Diego Union-Tribune takes a very good stab at the real-rate-of-inflation story today but doesn’t quite touch on this particular issue. Check out the fascinating chart at the bottom of the page.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.