Department of Economic Illiteracy

I'm surprised to see Mark Kleiman linking to this piece of silliness, which purports to "prove" that the Dow has fallen by 20% since GWB took office. Says Mark, "Turns out the "ownership society" hasn't even been good for the owners."

This little treasure comes from a website hilariously titled "Just the Facts", and achieves this result by using a market-weighted basket of global currencies. This is--what's the word I'm looking for? Right, right, utterly daft. Americans don't buy things in a market-weighted basked of global currencies. They shop in dollars. And we have a perfectly good mechanism for calculating the value of the Dow in dollars; it's called "inflation adjustment". The inflation-adjusted value of the January 2001 Dow in today's dollars is about 12,200; today's level is unambiguously higher about the same (oops! need to check stock market news even while on deadline. larger point stands).

But what about foreigners? I hear you cry? What about 'em? They hold almost no stocks--about $200 billion on a total market capitalization1 of 17.75 trillion.

What about the amount of foreign goods you can buy by selling your stocks? Trade is a relatively small part of the United States economy, and much of it is with places like Mexico and China, whose currencies haven't really altered much against ours. (To be fair, a lot of it is also with Canada and Japan, that have seen higher currency appreciation). Moreover, many of those places have dropped the prices of their goods and taken lower profits rather than lose sales volume. That's why, you may recall, everyone's complaining that our trade deficit is failing to adjust. Overall, the effect of the currency decline on the purchasing power of your stock investment is exceedingly modest unless you planned to blow every dollar on Paris vacations and BMW automobiles.

1Of the Wilshire 5,000 index, which comprises all the stocks on the three largest exchanges