Sunday, June 25, 2017

10 Reasons to Avoid Cuba (Part 1)

I just returned from three months living in Latin America, including Cuba. So many Spanish curse words to learn, so little time. Pinga. Maricon. Mierda. Puta. Best of all, if you want to double down, you just add a "re" to the beginning of a swear word, and you've got a new way to express yourself.  These words would come in handy in Havana... 

Plaza de Revolucion
My first day, I walked past a building that looked like a kid's powder-blue castle. I walked in and realized it was a police department. Seeing Fidel Castro's words on various plaques on the walls, I thought I'd take a picture and translate it later. Someone stopped me at and directed me to the front desk, about 30 feet away. I walked up and asked if I could take a photo of the plaque. The uniformed woman said I couldn't.  Stunned at her lack of common sense, I started walking backwards and said, sarcastically, "No es posible tomar una photo de palabras de Fidel Castro? En Cuba? Viva la revolucion!" 

My month-long experience in Havana did not get better from there. Before I explain exactly why and how Cuba relies on hype to boost its tourism numbers, I'll give you some tips if you--against all reason and decency--still want to visit.

The Good

You can see Havana in three days. Almost all the action is in or near Old Town, or Havana Vieja, and if you want to visit, stay there. An excellent tour bus costing 10 USD per person starts and ends at Plaza de Revolucion--you should take it as soon as possible to see where you'd like to go.

The usual list of places to see includes Capitolio (similar to America's Congress), Ernest Hemingway's house, Playas de Este (a beach), 
a tobacco factory or shop, Casa de la Musica, the Malecon, Bodeguita del Medio, Callejon de Hamel, Museo del Chocolate (a cafe), Hotel Nacional, Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana), and Fabrica de Arte (a hipster club).  Some people take bus tours via Cubatur or Havanatur to Trinidad, Varadero, Vinales, or Cienfuegos (known for fishing), but I only stayed in Havana.

My favorite spots were Museo del Chocolate, 
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the beach (Playas de Este--wear sunscreen!), and Hotel Nacional (go inside and to the outdoor bar).  
by Mariano Rodriguez
Playas de Este
"Museum" of Chocolate
Cuba is unique because it lacks widespread WiFi (pronounced wee-fee in Cuba). To access WiFi, you must find hotspots throughout the city and input a number from a card.  You can buy a one hour card from someone in the hotspot area for 3 USD.  If you're frugal like me, you can go directly to the local phone company's office (I went to the one on 17th and B), wait in a long line, show ID, and buy ones for 1.50 USD. (Cuba's economy is so terrible, buying and re-selling anything to tourists is usually more attractive than working for the government.) 
Make sure the password isn't already scratched off, clear your browser's cache, and you'll get a pop-up ETECSA website prompting you for the two numbers you'll see on the card.  

Some other information:

1.  Cuba's national soda brand is Ciego Montero, and the cola flavor is better than Coke. As you might expect, it uses real sugar. If Cuba adds a small sticker on each can or bottle saying, "Made with Real Cuban Sugar" and exports it to the EU and China, it can watch the money roll in. Unfortunately, there's a U.S. naval blockade, and other countries aren't keen to let foreign companies compete with their domestic companies. 

The more you travel, the more you realize there's no such thing as "free trade." Every country protects its own farmers and agricultural sector, and the reason foreign-produced coffee is so widely available in North America is because its soil isn't ideal for growing coffee beans commercially.  In other words, there's no domestic coffee bean industry to protect, so America has few restrictions on foreign coffee beans. You still won't see many Juan Valdez or Cafe Britt cafes in North America, partly because of higher operating and legal compliance costs, which make it harder for countries with weaker currencies to open physical locations in the U.S. without preferences such as lower tariffs and low insurance costs. I guess it's easier for developed countries to whine about trade deficits than actually try to think long-term about creating truly effective international competition and cross-border investment. 
Cuba's best products -- not coming to a store near you
2.  When you go to any busy place, there will be a line.  Always ask, "Ultimo?" to determine whom you're behind, and when that person gets in line or moves forward, follow him or her. 

3.  Finally, download, a free VPN, and an offline Spanish-to-English dictionary on your cell phone before you visit.  Once you're in the country, some apps or webpages might not work, even if you have WiFi. I noticed one Google article on Cuba didn't load when I had WiFi. Next time I accessed WiFi, I tried again with the VPN. It downloaded the article--which was not critical of Cuba--seamlessly. If something doesn't work in Cuba, don't automatically assume the government is blocking it--it's more likely Cuba doesn't have the necessary infrastructure to be compatible or to make it work.

The Bad and Ugly

I've visited about 40 countries, including impoverished ones like India, where I saw people living in shacks and sleeping on the ground a few meters from the Baby Taj, and people desperate enough to follow me for half a mile begging for money. I don't mind a lack of first-world amenities. I always try to live like the locals when I travel, partly because it's cheaper, but also because I don't see the point in traveling just to meet other tourists or see yet another beach. (Unless you're in Nice, France, where the beach has a stone surface, how much water and sand can you see in one lifetime?)  

I *uckin' hated Cuba.

1.  Cuba is like America, if the Least Business-Savvy Cotton Plantation Owners Had Won the Civil War

Cuba has all of modern America's worst traits--its jingoism, its excessive patriotism, its inability to handle criticism--and none of its best traits--entrepreneurship, technological infrastructure, and open media. After hearing me criticize Cuba, one waitress became upset and told me, "We have a saying in Cuba: 'If you don't love your country, it's like you don't love your mother.'" (I didn't ask if the phrase still applied if your mother was an abusive kleptocrat.)

Cuba was the penultimate country in the Western Hemisphere to ban slavery in 1886 (Brasil banned it in 1888, though it banned slave trading earlier). Cuba relies and relied so much on its tobacco, cocoa, and sugar industries--all linked to manual labor--it needed slaves to run its economy, just like Brasil. Today, in Cuba, a clear racial division exists between higher class jobs in medicine and academia and other jobs, even if the pay isn't vastly different.

I try to walk about 7 miles a day and take public transportation when abroad, so I notice patterns others might not see. When I passed by local hospitals or saw doctors in local restaurants getting lunch, almost every doctor had blue or green eyes and light skin. I met a black medical professor and raised my concerns with her. She agreed and said black professionals need to be twice as a good as non-black ones to be accepted in educated Cuban society. (Pop quiz: what other country does that remind you of?)

Property ownership is another way to gauge wealth. My Airbnb property owner had whiter skin than most Scandinavians. The government tries to provide housing for Cubans, but so many people have moved to Havana from smaller cities looking for tourism-related work, it could not keep up with demand. In Havana and elsewhere in Cuba, almost everyone lives in crowded conditions with family unless they have generous remittances or bought property a long time ago. 

Who rides the cramped buses in Havana? Besides me, almost all black-skinned persons, senior citizens, and almost no one with light eyes, indicating they need to commute to work much longer distances or can't afford taxis. Mind you, shared taxis for locals aren't very expensive--about 50 cents--but the bus is even cheaper at about 4 cents a ride. 

You don't need to be a keen observer to notice Cuba is an odd place. I had a neighbor in my apartment complex blasting music or the television at 12 in the morning. When I complained to my Airbnb landlord's assistant, she warned me against confronting him and pointed to her arm, saying, "Negro"--black.  Except for America, I've never been in a country where it was so openly acceptable to link a lack of manners to one's skin color. (My landlord eventually talked to him, and after some yelling, he stopped playing loud music at 11pm.)

Cuba taught me that it's possible to have racism without segregation. Like Brasil and Costa Rica, Cuba is racially diverse. I was born in the Middle East, and I can pass for a local in all three countries, but only in Cuba did I realize why Southern whites supported Jim Crow in America. If you had to deal with millions of poor people suddenly having the same rights as you, but without an education or way to succeed economically, would you take advantage of an opportunity to keep them away from your neighborhood, at least until they had similar education or financial support as you? 

Most Cubans have someone in Miami sending them money each month, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of the darker-skinned Cubans lack such connections because their families live or lived in more rural places where manual labor jobs would be more plentiful and news of refugee and exile programs more difficult to verify. In short, remittances from Miami probably favor educated and/or light-skinned Cubans. With private businesses finally being allowed, but banking loans unavailable to most people, Cuba might end up with major wealth disparities based on race--just like America.  (Some revolution, huh?)  

When you allow slavery, it has long-term consequences. When looking for a place to live, if you can choose, pick a place that banned slavery or slave trading earlier rather than later, allowing more time for economic progress. Such a yardstick might not be useful in isolation, though. For example, Vermont partially banned slavery in 1777, but it didn't need slaves to run the comparatively less labor-intensive business of dairy farming, and even today, Vermont is 95% white. Contrast such a ban with Cuba's, which might have a more meaningful history: Spain banned slavery in 1811, including in its colonies such as Cuba; however, Cuba rejected the ban. In other words, given a choice, it intentionally decided not to choose the more moral option.

Both America and Cuba have sold themselves a revolutionary vision that has no connection with what's actually happening on the ground. If America doesn't make a cultural u-turn, it may resemble Cuba in 200 years--glossy on the outside, rotten on the inside, bolstered by slick propaganda, and divided based on race and wealth.

2.  Smoking is Everywhere

Dunhill cigarettes cost 1.75 USD.  There is no sales tax.  I've never seen so many high school kids smoking in my life.  I even saw middle schoolers smoking. So much for Cuba's great educational system.  

To be fair, the elementary school kids I saw were well-behaved and played well together, and one Canadian-born father told me when the teachers tell the pre-schoolers to sleep, they all sleep without a fuss.

3.  Health Care is Free for Locals but is Decades Behind

I haven't gotten to Cuba's dual currency system, which incentivizes tourist theft, but let me tell you a story: when I needed Immodium, I asked a doctor, who said he needed to write me a prescription. He'd do it for free if he had a script, but he didn't have one, so he had to borrow one from a co-worker, and he needed 15 USD for it. Unfortunately for him, as he was saying this, he opened his wallet, which had a script. I didn't take him up on the offer. (In case it's not obvious, t
ourists do not receive free healthcare, and I'm not sure if Cuba still requires incoming airlines to add and collect a small healthcare fee on its behalf.) 

Why did I need a prescription for Immodium? Because Cuba regulates and controls everything. When I got sick in the Philippines or Thailand, I could go anywhere and get medicines that would require a prescription in the U.S.  (I still remember floating in the air and giggling after taking muscle relaxants in Bangkok that were suggested to help me recover from diarrhea and exhaustion.) Pharmacies, when you can find them, only seem to have Vitamin B and C, though I did see a Cuban-made anti-cholesterol medicine in one of Old Havana's pharmacies. I couldn't find ibuprofen or antibiotic cream in any pharmacy.

The lack of selection isn't limited to OTC drugs. I've been hearing-impaired since birth and have been lucky to see firsthand technological improvements in hearing aids over three decades. In Cuba, I saw a few people wearing hearing aids. They were the same ones I wore about 20 years ago. 

Don't believe the hype--Cuba lacks technology, including in medicine. The people most fervent about Cuban healthcare are younger Cubans, who have only experienced its most basic functions like annual checkups. Many people will tell you about someone with cancer who was cured after receiving free treatment, but upon delicate cross-examination, will disclose they don't actually know the person who received cancer treatment; in other words, it's hearsay and unreliable. It's true foreign medical students study in Cuba, but if you look closely at the flag on their sleeves above the Cuban flag, it's almost always an African country even poorer than Cuba.

4.  Everyone Will Try to Rip You Off if You Don't Speak Spanish or Look Cuban

I expect a certain level of mendacity when I travel to poorer countries, but in Cuba, it's practically a national pastime. 

Cubans are poor, and main sources of wealth include tourism-related jobs or Miami-related remittances or smuggled items (I met a Floridan in the airport who brought 5,000 USD cash to his relatives--he told me Cuba has been going downhill for a while). Because private businesses are new concepts to many Cubans, they haven't learned that creating good relationships can lead to higher income or repeat business. Like some American businesses, they tend to see everything in the short-term--a one-off opportunity to extract as much money from you as possible--a mindset encouraged by most tourists' decisions to stay only three or four days in Cuba. 

It's hard to hold a grudge, though. Doctors, like most government employees, make about 25 USD a month in Cuba, not including bonuses. As I explained above, they will rip you off just like almost everyone else in Cuba if given a chance.

Many restaurants and food stalls "forgot" to give me proper change or substituted the wrong currency. Even a fancy restaurant in Old Havana, when given a 100 CUC bill for a 20 CUC charge, gave me back 60 CUC. (That reminds me--when exchanging currency, get 10 CUC bills--anything larger will be difficult to break. Also, there's a 10% fee for changing U.S. dollars but not any other country's currency. Bring Euros, pounds, or Canadian dollars to avoid the ripoff, er, fee.)

In case you don't already know, Cuba has two currencies. One is called CUP, or moneda nacional. The one used by most tourists is called CUC.  Technically, as a tourist, you're not supposed to have CUP, but you'll get some as change if you pay CUC to an honest street vendor or build a relationship with a local business and ask to do an exchange.

CUCs are equivalent to U.S. dollars, while it takes 24 or 25 CUP to equal a single CUC.  You'll be able to identify the difference after a day or two, but just remember: CUC bills do not have pictures of people on the front, and CUC coins are generally silver-colored, not gold-colored. (By the way, if you're American, you cannot use the ATM machines--sanctions inconvenience you, too--whatever cash you bring in, that's it.) 

Quick--which one's worth more? 

Sometimes, the dual currency system leads to genuine mistakes. For example, a taxi ride in an old American car within Havana is usually 5 CUC for a tourist, but only 40 to 60 cents for a local. (The yellow cabs charge 5 CUC for any number of people if empty, but the price will vary depending on your Spanish.) When I was with a Cuban friend for a day, he told me to keep my mouth shut in taxis so we wouldn't be charged the tourist rate. At the end of our tour, before we went separate ways, he negotiated a ride in a motorized "rickshaw" after confirming in English with me it would be 10 CUP. The driver, however, thought he was being helped by his Cuban colleague and would be paid 10 CUC (double the tourist rate!). At the end of the short trip, after some yelling and threats of physical violence, the driver and I both departed angry. 

Cuba's attitude seems to be, "If you get hustled, you deserved it."  There's no remorse whatsoever. Always r
emember: you are expected to negotiate in Cuba. Most prices should be cut in half unless you know the going rate. Go with a local Cuban everywhere if you can, and let him or her do the talking. Your experience will be much more pleasant. If renting from Airbnb, stay with a family and negotiate your meals being included. I stayed in an apartment solo, which was a mistake. Most Cuban residential buildings aren't set up to have privacy, so I gained little by having a place to myself.

I'll end Part 1 with a joke:

Q: How do you know when a Cuban is lying to you? 
A: His lips are moving.

I wish I was kidding. 

[To be continued...] 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Nation of Immigrants? Not Unless the Bondholders Agree.

"If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost." -- President Ronald Reagan

America has always claimed it is a nation of immigrants, but we are discovering it is a nation of immigrants when it needs them--especially ones with technical skills--and hostile to them when convenient.  Is America's openness to immigrants based on whether it can exploit their labor? 

Over 150 years ago, America needed immigrants to farm and work in the fields, so it got them--illegally.  Their legal status didn't matter. America needed railroads, too, but when the Chinese proved to be better than the natives, America decided it disliked competition and passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricting immigration.  

Today, America is restricting immigration directly by spending more on immigration enforcement, even against law-abiding residents with American children, and indirectly by restricting H1B and other visas. It's true if one country designs its school system around math and science instead of trying to teach all things to all people, it will have an advantage over a Dewey-designed system that prizes social control above practical skills. Yet, America's response to being outgunned, outmaneuvered, and out-educated has always been the same: do anything but change the status quo unless absolutely necessary, demonize the other side, and pass laws restricting their ability to compete.

Before you get too upset, it's useful to realize America has always used the law to defend the status quo, whether it was Buck Leonard playing baseball too well in the Negro Leagues and being excluded from MLB; Muhammad Ali correctly analyzing the Vietnam War better than the so-called experts and having his title taken away; Jackie Robinson getting court-martialed by the military; Swedes and Norwegians in Minnesota discriminating against immigrant Finns; and so on.

Modern America uses land-use restrictions to prevent building mosques while allowing churches with political connections an easier process; restricts H1B visas but does little to reform K-12 educational outcomes; sends PhD graduates back to their home country even if their skills are useful and their character good; protects government teachers, mostly native-born, from accountability; attacks charter schools, Uber, and Airbnb because they take funding away from existing players with political connections; and does not adequately audit tax exempt entities that do not necessarily promote the public good. (How many students could afford to pay for colleges, which are nonprofits even if public or private, without receiving government-backed student loans? How many churches could show they spend most of their funds on charitable services serving the public rather than their own members?) 

Ironically, Americans able to effectively protest and change existing rules were often protected by the police or the military--the same Establishment upholding those same rules. Muhammad Ali discovered boxing after a white police officer introduced him to the sport, which later put him under the protection of Louisville's most established lawyers. Baseball's #42, Jackie Robinson, was drafted by the Army in 1942.  Malcolm X? Murdered. MLK? Killed.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the NSA? Ex-military, from a military family, and ex-intelligence. He's having fun with his girlfriend in Moscow. Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who brought down President Nixon and helped end the Vietnam War? Marine Corps officer (First lieutenant). Still alive and very much an activist.

No matter what, the Establishment prevails, which always favors insiders rather than outsiders such as immigrants. Today, barriers are systemic, and the Establishment prevails through legal loopholes, legal restrictions, and high prices. Resistance to change is a feature, not a bug, of America's debt-soaked system. It prioritizes bondholders getting paid in order to continue to keep taxes lower than otherwise possible and government employment relatively constant or growing. When your economic system depends on ensuring bondholders are paid every three months or every month, openness to outsiders who cannot contribute immediately to the tax base becomes more difficult, long-term thinking be damned.

Let's take a more personal example.  Want to be a politician and help society? First you have to go to law school.  How much is law school? 40,000 USD a year, including room and board? You're going to need lots of loans. Once you're saddled with six figures in student loans, are you going to protest your professor or government official, who may be able to assist you with job placement? Even if you wanted to protest, how would you first gain the relevant experience necessary to determine which ideas weaken accountability and which ones might work? If one day, your professor or government official decides fewer rather than more immigrants are ideal, what can you really do?  You're in debt, and student loans are non-chargeable in bankruptcy. You may want to assist immigrants, but what if that immigrant is going to compete against you for a job or divert revenue that might otherwise help subsidize your loans? Having debt automatically limits options because it forces you to prioritize your own financial interests rather than the public good or long-term outcomes. When your entire society runs on debt, the Establishment will accept outsiders only if it benefits the insiders--and their ability to pay off accumulated debt. 

Slavery was wrong in America even when some slaves were allowed freedom and the ability to migrate.  Slavery is wrong today, even if its form and shape have been modified to resemble the smiling faces of a college admissions employee, a bank's mortgage officer, and a retail employee asking if you open a credit card account.  And so it goes. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Political Posts

See below for older but popular articles if you're interested in American politics:

1. (Credit and Credibility in America)

What is debt's impact on the average and even above-average American's mobility?

2. (Why Won't Someone Think of the Children?!)

Why have voters lost faith in government, especially K-12 educational employees?

3. (Immigration and the West)

4. (Inflation Elasticity)

How do we deal with increasing complexity as size increases, leading to greater reliance on formal norms? 

Monday, June 5, 2017

When at Baidu, Be Sure to Meet the Bear

Baidu (BIDU) is one of China's largest technology companies. Its Bay Area campus is well-designed. I'm saddened by how few international companies get mainstream media attention in America.  Turkey, China, and other countries have major consumer companies but their products don't generally make it to American consumers because of complex trade agreements. Anyone who thinks free trade exists should watch the documentary Black Gold (2006). 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Legal Rights without Economic Access are Worthless

"You can have all the rights in the world, but if you can't enforce them, they're not worth very much." -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 

Too many people confuse written laws with actual implementation.  If a law is passed saying that men and women must be paid equally, it does not mean men and women will be paid equally.  The person who believes he or she is being paid unequally has to find a lawyer; convince the lawyer to take his or her case; pay the fees to the lawyer and the courthouse; and then wait months or years to get a result, which will--in a best case scenario--most likely be some money minus fees and expenses.  If you're interested in meaningful, lasting change, you should see obvious problems with such a system.

First, if law school tuition is 35,000 USD to 55,000 USD a year, and law graduates have 100,000 USD in student loans, how likely is it that the lawyer can or will help front the costs to the person who believes s/he is suffering illegal discrimination?  Litigation costs even before trial can easily run around 8,000 USD, depending on the number of depositions and motions filed.  In almost all civil cases, the losing party pays the costs of the prevailing party, which may sometimes require payment of the other side's attorneys' fees.  What about nonprofit legal aid centers?  They usually rely on volunteer lawyers, and you're dependent on whether they choose to take your case--which depends a lot on their funding, staffing levels, and random assignment to a particular employee or volunteer of varying skill level. Lesson: at the end of the day, the law needs money to work and even with money, may do little to actually fix underlying problems.

Second, how does the lawyer know whether the plaintiff's belief is objective or subjective? In most cases, the potential plaintiff will not arrive with printouts of everyone else's salaries or benefits, and the lawyer must initially evaluate the plaintiff at his or her word.  Even if the plaintiff is correct, where will the costs and fees come from to file a complaint and get the necessary documents and evidence if the plaintiff has been terminated or does not have enough savings? If the lawyer fronts the costs out of his or her own pocket and realizes the plaintiff is wrong, should the lawyer be able to sue the client for the costs, knowing that doing so will increase the chances of receiving a malpractice or state bar complaint? Lesson: at the end of the day, the law needs money to work and even with money, may do little to actually increase substantive rights.

Third, how does the new lawyer know which judge will be assigned to the case, and whether the judge is inclined to be more open minded or close minded?  Cases are randomly assigned to judges when filed.  The judge may not know the new lawyer, and the new lawyer may be against a lawyer well-known to the court.  Even if the plaintiff is correct, what if the judge doesn't believe the type of evidence presented is sufficient to warrant a jury trial? Lesson: the law is often dependent on randomness.

More examples to ponder:

1.  Many states have the death penalty on the books.  In 2016, however, only 5 states actually executed criminals.  Within those 5 states, 20 people were put to death.  The death penalty in America is now basically a taxpayer-funded lawyer, investigator, and prison guard employment act than a deterrent. The cost to house a death row inmate in California is $90,000 more per year than for other inmates, with much of the cost arising from state legal requirements relating to government-funded lawyers. Lesson: the lawyers always get paid, regardless of results. [Update on June 20, 2017: California has not actually executed anyone since 2006.]

2.  After Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) outlawed segregation, many cities and states passed laws trying to evade the impact of the case. To challenge such laws required more lawyers and more lawsuits.  Now, it appears we're back to square one: a 2016 report released by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office "shows that the number of schools segregated along racial and financial lines more than doubled over a 13-year period ending in the 2013-14 school year." Lesson: the teachers, administrators, and lawyers always get paid, regardless of results.

3.  Abortion is legal in America.  In 2011, 94% of abortion procedures, including both surgical and medication, took place in clinics. As of 2015, there were 517 surgical abortion clinics and 213 medication abortion clinics in the entire country, and some states had no clinics.  The cost of an abortion is about 500 to 600 USD.  You are a teenager who has an unplanned pregnancy and want an abortion.  You do not have 500 to 600 USD.  You can apply for indigent healthcare programs, but your ability to get coverage depends on the random assignment of at least one person to assist you.  Lesson: the law, even when it's funded in your favor, makes you dependent on random government or nonprofit employees.

The overall lesson is not to scrap our legal system, but to realize if given a choice, voters should think of taxes as a way to create a certain society.  For example, would you rather your taxes create a society with predictability and higher welfare payments in the event of a job loss, or one where terminated employees experience more randomness with a larger potential payoff? 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

American Tragedy

Most Americans consider themselves socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but they're really socially judgmental and fiscally ignorant.

How else is America the most conservative developed country on issues like the death penalty and abortion and unable to understand basic issues like debt's impact on inflation?

A country that runs on debt is a country where politicians can pander to every single group's demands--regardless of merit or long-term consequences.  Furthermore, peace based on cheap debt is not peace at all--it is a slumbering giant waiting for collection day.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

OECD Inflation

Here's a worrying chart from Bloomberg, but it's incomplete.  Can you figure out why?

Without knowing how much of the inflation is organic or due to debt, and what kinds of debt (government, small business, consumer, auto, education, etc.), the chart is only useful as a singular snapshot.

So many problems today arise from people being unable to see data in context.  As economic transactions have become globalized and therefore more complex, data gatherers and writers are still too specialized.  There is almost no one who can put data in proper context, and so we stumble along, convinced that resolving x will be the cure when x is only one part of an ecosystem we generally don't understand.