John Williams lives in a one-bedroom Oakland apartment just a few blocks behind the Grand Lake Theater. He doesn't like to talk about politics, and he certainly doesn't like to talk about the stock market. He's sixty years old and has a two-man operation: a webmaster and himself. But in the obscure corners of the Internet, he's an unlikely legend, an economist who publishes a newsletter that purports to tell the real truth about the state of the nation's health. His thesis is both simple and surprisingly complex: over the course of thirty years, Washington politicians have pressured federal economists to tweak the methods by which they assess key metrics of the economy, to inflate the numbers and protect the incumbents from voters who would surely rise up in anger, if only they knew the truth.
And the truth, Williams claims, is that the economy has always performed much more poorly than the federal numbers indicate. Prices are higher, fewer people are working, and the economy is growing at a much slower pace. Even now, when the nation faces its greatest crisis since the Great Depression, the real dimensions of the disaster are still being obscured by gimmicks. It's a message that has earned him an odd bit of notoriety, to the clear frustration of some of the country's most prominent economists, who claim that Williams has built a career misrepresenting complex mathematical models and spreading panic.
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