Inflation Frustration

Insert here: a portrait of America getting screwed

Editor’s Note:  Have a question that needs no answer? Then ask Karine Jean-Pierre, since she tends not to have any. For all other questions, ask Matt at askmattlabash@gmail.com

Dear Matt,
Inflation is strangling us. Is there anything you can say to make me feel better about it?
Becky A.

Though it might come as a shock to readers, I’m not an economist. But while I don’t wish to brag, I did pull solid C’s in Econ 101 and 102 in college. Not only because I browsed the reading and diligently attended about a third of the classes, but because I cheated.  Or as I like to think of it, I looked at the average variable cost of my study output (too high), then looked at the girl sitting in front of me, then considered our double coincidence of wants - I wanted her test answers, she wanted me to stop reading over her shoulder. Then I asked if she wouldn’t mind slouching a little so I could reach utility maximization.  (Just a little light econ talk….hope I didn’t lose the layperson.)

Of course, me being an Econ C-student seems to put me in good company with Joe Biden, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and a host of administration Baghdad Bobs who also seem to have little-to-no idea what’s going on, failing even, to acknowledge that we’re in a recession.  Yellen instead opts to call it “a period of transition in which growth is slowing.” (As CNBC reported, she might technically still be in the definitional safe zone, even though every two-consecutive-quarters of our GDP dropping, as it just did, has caused the National Bureau of Economic Research  to declare a recession, going all the way back to 1948.) If only Yellen’s economic insights were as keen as her gift for euphemism. In March of 2021, she infamously said that inflation would be “transitory.” And indeed, the inflation rate was in transit, from the 2.6 percent it was then, to the 9.1 percent it is now.  (Maybe Yellen should start cheating off the girl who sits in front of her, too.)

But you already know the news is bad. That’s why you asked me to find some punch in the turd-bowl.  I racked my brain to think of some upsides, and here’s what I could muster:

1. Perhaps, with all the discomfiting economic news, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will be inspired to speak less in public. Because every time she does, my consumer confidence falls. You know things are dire when I feel compelled to link to an RNC Research tweet at all, let alone twice in the same piece.  I hate to baldly state that she’s bad at her job – too cruel – but I am starting to feel like I owe Sean Spicer an apology. Lesson: think things are bad now?  Cheer up, because they can always get worse. Happiness is transitory, to paraphrase our Treasury Secretary.

2. Good news: now that the Fed seems invested in a series of interest rate hikes to curtail inflation, you might actually get a return on your savings account for a change!  Though the bad news:  since half the country might have to sell their kidneys to fill up their cars or to afford meat that doesn’t come out of a can (some retailers are now locking up SPAM in anti-theft cases), you probably no longer have a savings account.

3. Misery loves company, and we have a lot of it.  It’s fun for Americans to blame their pet culprit(s):  the Biden administration, Putin’s war of aggression, OPEC (who deserves our enduring scorn, just as a matter of habit), COVID, supply chain interruptions, a diminished labor force fat on stimulus money, Ron DeSantis (I actually don’t know anyone who is blaming DeSantis for inflation, but I like to blame the culture-war galoot for everything, just to stay in game shape for when he runs for president).  Though as with most things, the sources of our woe are more complicated and varied than the gasbag punditry lets on.  And the woe is not unique to us.  Think 9.1 percent inflation is bad? Pew Research crunched the worldwide numbers for the last two years. Portugal and Spain are seeing well over ten times what their inflation rate was in the first quarter of 2020. Italy and Greece hover around 20 times the same. And Israel is topping off at 25 times their old inflation rate, which might, at least, make Prince Harry happy.  (He’s not a big supporter of the Jews.)

Among the 44 nations Pew collected the numbers for, the United States, for its part, ranked 19th in climbing inflation. China, for its part, being the nation that kicked off this inflationary spike after introducing the world to COVID, ranked dead last. In 2021, China’s inflation rate was around  .85 percent compared to the previous year.  Meaning, China ought to be sending us reparations checks. I’m happy to take mine in Yuan, since my dollar doesn’t go very far anymore.

4.  Finally, when I launched Slack Tide last October, a paid subscription costs five bucks per month or 50 bucks for the year. (Which for you math whizzes, breaks out to $ 4.16 a month.) And with all this inflationary pressure? It still costs the same! That means zero percent inflation. You’re welcome. Become a paid subscriber now.

But that’s about all the sunny-side I can come up with. You see why they don’t ask me to volunteer down at the suicide-prevention hotline.  I will, however, take this to group and await the wisdom of the crowd.

Conversation starters:  What the hell is happening, and how do we get out of this cycle? Where does this inflation train finally let us off?  Who or what is primarily to blame?  What do you miss buying most, besides gasoline and food?  How have you changed your spending habits, or are you a one-percenter who maintains that the crisis is overblown, from the comfort of your villa in Ibiza? And why is it pronounced Ihh-beetha instead of  Ihh-beeza?  Can the rich no longer afford to get their speech impediments fixed?

I’ll let you go to it, but as always, be respectful. This is a civilized corner of the internet. Let’s keep it that way.  No cursing, no abusing, no high-sticking.

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