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Craig K. Comstock

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"In God We Trust; All Other, Bring Data!"

Posted: 07/11/11 05:01 PM ET

When crucial information is misleading or absent, what is the meaning of democracy? Key indicators are now being hidden or massaged, for example, in the areas of fighter levels abroad, money supply, unemployment, and oil reserves. In this situation, how can we reach intelligent decisions about war, economic recovery, or energy use?

Take fighter levels. The U.S. government focuses attention on troops, leaving aside the "contractors" or mercenaries whom it pays, even when they are doing jobs formerly done by soldiers. (Despite this basic deception, it decides to withdraw only a fraction of what it has earlier "surged.")

Most media writers and commentators go along with this charade, dutifully reporting on "troops," as if the number of members of the official armed forces is the whole story. It's the basic trick of a magician to draw attention over here (look!) while the real action is going on over there.

Take money supply. In March 2006, the Fed simply announced it would stop reporting the "M3" figure (which is a technical term, according to inflationdata.com, referring to forms of money that include large-denomination time deposits, institutional money funds, repurchase liabilities issued by depository institutions, and Eurodollars held by U.S. residents at foreign branches of U.S. banks and at all banks in the U.K. and Canada). Did they bureaucrats no longer keep track of this crucial figure, or did they no longer want outsiders to know?

Take U.S. unemployment. Experts ridicule the official figure of less than 10 per cent, which is widely reported. The government simply excludes all those who are no longer receiving unemployment benefits because they have been out of work so long. For the real figure of unemployment or the M3 money supply, it is necessary to find your way to an underground source, such as John Williams' ShadowStats.com. He gives real rate of unemployment as above 20 per cent.

Take the supply of oil in the "swing producer," which is Saudi Arabia. According to the Saudis, they could increase production dramatically. According to the analysis in Twilight in the Desert, by the late Matt Simmons, they probably can't. The real data remains obscure.

Many other instances could be added. The drastically delayed data about what happened at Fukushima is only a recent example. Official spokespeople fail to distinguish between exposure to radiation at a distance and tiny particles getting inside the body and causing cancer as they irradiate the cells right around them.

Whether data is misleading or simply unavailable, whether the excuse is "proprietary information" or "national security," the public is badly informed or misled. Experts may know the truth, or something closer to it, but they are drowned out by official sources and those who fail to question them. Many journalists assume they have done their job when they report "both sides," the official cover-up and statements based on data gathered by critics. This road leads not to democratic control, but to disaster.

Next time a boring number is hidden or tells only part of the story, ask, as the police do, about motive. Does a power company heavily invested in a nuclear plant have a motive to conceal or delay data that might question its actions? Does a government trying to pretend things are not so bad economically have a motive for redefining numbers?

Note: the title is taken from Amory Lovins of the Rocky Moutnain Institute, from whom I first heard this useful extension of our monetary slogan.