Biden and Inflation

Photograph Source: atramos – CC BY 2.0

Culture wars have real casualties, just look at the 19 kids and teacher slaughtered this past week on the altar of our gun culture. But for politicians, culture wars conveniently distract people from the economy. So in that sense, culture wars are humbug. They’re the junk reactionaries and fascists vomit forth to conceal from their addled base the fact that in recent decades rightists have enabled corporations to steal trillions of dollars from ordinary working people. But guess what? So-called liberal Dems do it too. And the Dems also skitter away from any discussion of how culture wars involve real money. To take one basic, very obvious example: fascists scream about the Great Replacement, while liberals promote a few Blacks to prominent positions. Meanwhile in the real world of earning a living and getting by, racial oppression consigns lots more African Americans to poverty, proportionally, than Whites.

This fall, Dems bank on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, something they have done zero to stop, over decades, to electrify their base and keep them in their congressional offices. In short, Democrats and Biden hope their failure to protect women’s rights will sidetrack voters’ attention from the gigantic, super-duper menace of inflation. It threatens their base more than anybody, being, as many of them are, on fixed or low incomes, but these politicos’ only plan is distraction, so these people forget about being robbed by the soaring cost of living. Good luck. And what a lousy program! One that’ll probably flop, as all eyes, Democrat and Republican, fixate on rising prices. Nowhere are those more evident than at the pump.

Recent months have seen gas prices in the $7 a gallon range in some places. Generally, however, they hover at about $4.50 per gallon for regular gas. If affordable electric cars had flooded the market along with the infrastructure for charging them and if consumers had the spare cash to purchase them, these astronomical gas prices would be great for the environment. But that’s still a dream world, and these prices instead merely emaciate the wallets of people who can’t afford them. Because they exploded in the supermarket, too. It’s not just meat – it’s fruits, vegetables, bread, all the essentials.

One thing that boosted prices is sanctions on Russia. They backfired and are now crushing the economies of Europe and the U.S. It turns out you can’t sanction an economy as huge as Russia, that provides so many essential commodities, without shooting yourself in the head. This stinks for the average westerner, who will probably blame incumbents at the polls. In fact, if any European or American politicos responsible for sanction-induced inflation survive their next election, I’ll be very surprised. But voters shouldn’t just unleash their wrath on Dems. The sanctions/inflation debacle is thoroughly bipartisan.

As prices for everything skyrocket, right-wingers deflect the true cause onto supposedly free-spending liberals, predicting that if Build Back better had passed, those prices would have shot up 50 percent. This is catchy, clever and false. Because if it’s spending we’re talking about, the elephant in the room is bipartisan – the military. Cut the pentagon budget down to, say, what Australia pays and then maybe we’d see some impact on inflation. Or slash the subsidies to energy corporations that roast the planet and will do it to a crisp if not stopped.

The real problem is that prices surge because corporations raise them. That’s called gouging. But Biden won’t call this outrage what it is. Instead, we get mealy-mouthed excuses about lockdowns and transparent falsehoods about Putin’s price hike. No. Our own, all-American companies rob us and call it “inflation.” That word does the trick. “Inflation” seems beyond anyone’s control; it appears as practically a force of nature. But it’s not, and price controls would prove it. We’ve had ‘em before, and they worked pretty well, while they were in place. Most recently under a Republican president, if I recall correctly.

You doubt that American companies are price gouging? Well, look no farther than the infant formula shortage for proof. For as frantic new parents scrounge desperately through supermarkets and pharmacies, coming up short, with no food for their babies, and celebrities like Bette Midler idiotically scold them to breast-feed (I guess she doesn’t know that some people work for a living and their bosses might not let them take breaks to pump breast milk), we have the business press, represented by Barron’s, noting that this scarcity in fact lifts profits for infant formula companies. So the truth is out and it’s ugly: your baby is hungry, so mega corporations can rake in the cash.

For more proof of price gouging, look at housing, where rents have zoomed into the stratosphere. Those slightly better-off middle-class people who’d like to own rather than rent are abandoning that dream in droves, as home prices blast through the roof. This started a while back. Indeed, a year ago, Ketchum, Idaho, where many home prices soar past one million dollars, was in a quandary about how to accommodate its nurses, firefighters and teachers. Back then, Mayor Neil Bradshaw proposed building a tent city for these workers in Rotary Park. The town needed their services, you see, but was unwilling to house its serfs in anything other than canvass.

Though Bradshaw wavered on the tent city idea, he at first touted its feasibility by citing the bathroom in the park that would house these employees, who could, he said, walk to the YMCA to shower before work. The park suggestion was thoughtful of him. At least he didn’t advocate cramming this unsightly tent city under an overpass.

According to KTVB7, one couple pitched their tent in the national forest outside of town, “after being unable to find housing anywhere close to their jobs.” This move, intended as a stop-gap, “turned into a 94-day ordeal.” They lived in the woods outside Ketchum, in their tent, well into January. And this homeless couple is far from unique in Idaho, or indeed in any American state.

So for loads of Americans, healthcare is unaffordable, higher education breaks the bank, over a thousand dollars per month in rent for a closet-sized studio remains out of reach and now, the cost of food and gas shoots into dangerous altitudes. Not surprisingly, babies get to starve first – because the U.S. doesn’t seem to give a damn about babies except before they’re born.

As many have observed, elderly people have Social Security and Medicare. Babies have empty bottles and bare supermarket shelves where infant formula should be. But companies like Abbott, that gorge on an infant formula monopoly, find the shortage lucrative. It’s time to break up the baby formula cartel, give business to companies besides the three mega corporations that dominate the market and delete these monopolies’ ridiculous government protection.

The week of May 16 the Biden administration moved in that direction. It announced that in addition to deploying the Defense Production Act, it would obtain formula from Europe. Good. The European stuff is more nutritious anyway. Why this wasn’t done back in February or March mystifies everyone except the cognoscenti among FDA initiates, who have their arcane reasons, as they do also for not approving a covid vaccine for the under-five crowd. This scandalous delay just went on and on, despite leaks that Moderna had a viable vaccine a month ago, with never a scrap of information about when babies might be vaccinated against covid, until finally on May 23 the Washington Post hinted that something might happen mid-June. We’ll see.

At least Biden responded to the bad press about the infant formula catastrophe. Hungry toddlers may not count for much in the culture wars, and they may mean little to our pampered, greedy and omnipotent defense contractors who snap their fingers and whole nations come running, but the specter of lost votes from all those furious parents sure count for any politico with a brain.  As always, it comes down to calculations of political self-interest to get the right thing done, very occasionally, in this dysfunctional country. So what else is new?

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.