Breaking News: Stuff actually costs a lot.
Yes, gas prices are up. I saw a woman fill up her old station wagon with premium the other day, and her pump total went over $90.
“Ouch!” I said to her, smiling.
“This damn inflation will be the end of us all,” she replied, then added “Let’s go Brandon,” (meaning Joe Biden should be blamed for this outrage) as she drove off.
Of course, the reason why gas is so expensive has less to do with Joe Biden or even the war in Ukraine than the oil industry itself. People stopped driving and flying during Covid, so oil producers reduced their exploration, drilling and output. Now that people are active again demand has returned, but supplies will take at least a few months to catch up. When demand outstrips supply, prices rise.
But oil companies are also exploiting the crisis. They should be profiting less in an environment of limited supply, but by gouging prices they’ve ended up having some of their most profitable years ever. The money is not going to the cost of the oil, but to the shareholders of oil companies. (See Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine for how such “disaster capitalism” works.) This is a distorted, corrupted market, with prices opportunistically orchestrated by corporations we also happen to subsidize with about $20 billion tax dollars annually.
Much of the rest of the inflation we are experiencing results from similar dynamics. During Covid many factories shut down. It didn’t affect prices much because most people were buying less stuff, anyway. Now that people are back in the stores (some of them, yes, with unspent relief checks signed by both Trump and Biden), demand is outstripping limited supplies of goods. At least for the moment. This will pass.
The longer term trend here, the one that may not pass so easily, is that people really don’t want to go back to work as they once knew it. After spending the last couple of years on Zoom calls, or doing customer service by phone from home for a retailer, or saving up savings, or taking care of loved ones, many former workers are reluctant to head back to the office, big box store, or factory floor. It’s inconvenient, a lot of work, and still a health risk.