Point Of View

December 26, 1996

So the Consumer Price Index has been, lo these past years, overstated, and all of our complaining has, if the Boskin commission's figures are accepted, been for naught.

So, I should have been happy - or at least not unhappy - all those years, rather than preaching gloom and doom, which I find to be much more fun. I can't stand it. What is left to do if complaining is out? It's boring not to be able to grouse. In fact, at this time of year, it is my favorite occupation. Scrooge? A mere caviler when compared to my thunderings as to the spiraling cost of living.

Well, the jury's still out. Meanwhile, whatever conclusion they come to concerning the C.P.I. and its history, I'd like to know why everybody's leasing rather than buying cars these days. I'll answer: Not enough money.

Why do we slough off Christmas and numerous other purchases onto credit cards with usurious interest rates? Answer: Not enough money.

Why do the young among us remain in the nest overlong? Answer: Not enough money.

Why do college students assume debt burdens unknown to previous generations? I'll answer: Not enough money.

I'm talking middle class here. The class that used to have enough money, but which now, I maintain, does not have enough money. The wealthy, C.P.I. or no, have always had more than enough money, and the poor have never had enough money, C.P.I. or no. (Are we to assume, assuming the C.P.I. has been overstated these past 20 years, that the poor weren't, in fact, poor? That today, for instance, there are not plus or minus six million poor children in this country?)

The Graves commission thus finds that the Consumer Price Index has been understated by about 1.1 percent per annum since 1975, and that, therefore, those middle class workers who have felt they've been struggling have, in fact, been struggling; that those on the margins of society who have felt themselves to be poor, have indeed been poor, and that those wealthy who have had no reason to worry about inflation have, indeed, had no reason to worry about inflation.

The commission therefore recommends no reduction in the capital gains tax, no reduction in Social Security payments, a return to progressive taxation, increased wage-benefit packages, an end to the vast gap between worker and management compensation, and greatly increased spending on social programs and in education so that everyone, finally, may start out on an equal footing. That is my Christmas wish.

I would, of course, continue to complain - I reserve that right, especially as I grow older. But, were those changes made - and there is enough money, nationwide, to make them - I would complain a lot less.