May 13, 2021

The Excruciating Pinch of Inflation

The CPI jumped 4.2% in April, but that’s only part of the frustrating picture.

Have you ever compared the price of beef now versus a few months ago? Or picked up a package at the grocery store only to realize it’s smaller than it used to be and it’s more expensive? Are you building a house right now and pulling your hair out over the price of materials? And then have you seen news reports about inflation still sitting at 2% and thought, “What are they smoking?”

Well, the Labor Department issued its inflation estimate Wednesday in the form of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and it jumped 4.2% over the last year, well above predictions of 3.6% and marking the fastest growth since 2008. That may be some validation for the inflation we’re all seeing, but it only begins to account for the hit to our wallets when buying goods and services these days.

What is CPI anyway? The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines it as “a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.” In plain language, the Labor Department selects representative products and averages the increase or decrease in prices over a period of time.

The average, then, greatly depends on which items are selected for “the basket.” In the latest numbers, for example, used autos accounted for a third of the total increase after surging 10% in April alone, and 21% year over year. We’re told “core” inflation is more like 3%, but the rise in prices is drastic in a number of areas, from meat, milk, and eggs to airfare, hotel rooms, and rental cars. The Daily Caller adds, “The prices of several commodities have already risen rapidly. Lumber, gasoline, steel, copper, computer chips, homes and home appliances have all increased in price.” Homes are up 17%, while steel and lumber in particular have tripled and quintupled, respectively.

It’s important to remember that inflation is a form of taxation, and it often happens because the government prints more money as a way of stabilizing the national debt. The more money is printed, the less that money is worth.

A decade ago, the great economist Thomas Sowell explained, “Inflation is a quiet but effective way for the government to transfer resources from the people to itself, without raising taxes. A hundred dollar bill would buy less in 1998 than a $20 bill would buy in the 1960s. This means that anyone who kept his money in a safe over those years would have lost 80 percent of its value, because no safe can keep your money safe from politicians who control the printing presses.”

Another great economist, Milton Friedman, once said, “Central bankers always try to avoid their last big mistake. So every time there’s the threat of a contraction in the economy, they’ll over stimulate the economy, by printing too much money. The result will be a rising roller coaster of inflation, with each high and low being higher than the preceding one.”

Thus, when the federal government floods the market with trillions of dollars in “COVID relief,” the effect is to inflate prices, which reduces purchasing power. Suddenly, millions of Americans have a few thousand extra dollars to spend thanks to multiple rounds of direct government payments. The unemployed are often earning more than their working counterparts. Wages are being driven up by the fact that employers have to compete against the government for workers, and when it’s more expensive to employ someone, a business has to raise prices.

The Wall Street Journal reports, “Some 36% of small businesses indicated that they had raised selling prices in April, the highest share since 1981, according to a survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business.”

Meanwhile, just as demand is spiking, supply lines are a mess. Try ordering a bike, a couch, or an appliance. Not only are you going to wait for months, but you’re probably going to pay more, and there’s only one answer ever given: “COVID.”

The Biden administration’s response? Let them eat cake. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell shrugs it off as “transitory” and expected as part of the recovery. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen dismissively says, “I don’t believe that inflation will be an issue.” Perhaps not for overpaid Beltway bureaucrats, but for the rest of us out here in flyover country, it is indeed an issue.

Again, there are numerous reasons for the increasing inflation. Some is caused by uncontrolled market forces. Most, however, is due to manipulation from DC, as well as government-imposed lockdowns in states around the nation. While both parties went on a spending binge last year that goosed inflation numbers, Joe Biden aims to be the Six Trillion Dollar Man with his runaway federal spending proposals. Instead of slowing down on spending as the economy recovers, Biden insists “it’s working” and therefore we need more of it.

As long as “free money” policy predominates, we’ll all continue to pay a lot more for everything.

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