On the Issues: Insidious Inflation

Over the past three years – ever since President Biden took office – I’ve noted a significant change in my family’s spending habits. My family now shops at discount retailers rather than “specialty” markets. We also use a cellphone app to find the best place to purchase less expensive gasoline for our vehicles. When we do drive, we tend to “cluster” our trips to minimize the mileage. (Click on the above title to continue reading if necessary.)

We turn down our thermostat at home in the winter and up in the summer. We don’t use any sort of heating or cooling at all during much of the autumn and spring. We replaced incandescent lightbulbs first with fluorescent lamps and then fluorescent lamps with light-emitting diodes. We turn off appliances when not in use. We have installed water-conserving toilets and shower heads in our bathrooms.

We don’t go out to restaurants as much anymore as a simple meal for two with a reasonable tip now exceeds $40! We are now more careful about where we order home-delivered pizza and do so less frequently. We rarely go to the movies and watch new releases online. We don’t purchase books; we acquire audiobooks for only a portion of the cost.

These life-changing activities have been slowly implemented over the years due to a growing realization that things are becoming more and more expensive. All the while, our household income has stayed pretty much the same. Does any of this sound familiar to you? I suspect that most of it does – all too familiar!

Starting with the Biden administration, inflation has grown and grown. At one point in the recent past, the annual inflation rate exceeded 6%. While proponents of the Biden administration are fast to point out that inflation has since slowed, it’s essential to realize that the prices of goods and services have risen substantially over the past three years and have remained high. Even though inflation has decreased, that doesn’t mean the prices have decreased. Again, prices have gone up and stayed up. The annual cost of living has dramatically increased, but my income went up only 3% yearly.  

Though I have not purchased one, the price of a new vehicle has skyrocketed due to the government mandates for increased fuel economy and the forced introduction of electric vehicles. The government’s effort to suppress carbon fuel use has driven up fuel prices across the board – even though little evidence suggests that climate change (or global warming or whatever you want to call it) is not linked to an anthropogenic origin! 

The cost of utilities has gone through the roof, too. The cost of natural gas, electricity, water, sewage, and refuse is now out of sight. Taxes and fees have increased in Illinois – fuel tax, property tax, license plates – only to exacerbate a worsening situation. We are being bled dry by all these increasing costs, and the present local, state, and federal governments don’t seem to care. When is enough enough?

Economically speaking, things are bad and getting worse. The federal debt has ballooned to 27 trillion dollars in recent years. Debt repayment is now consuming 25% of every federal tax dollar. Entitlement programs and spending on social programs are likewise ballooning, with states and cities appealing to the federal government for relief from problems of their own making as illegal immigrants flood major cities, taking advantage of their sanctuary city status. As economist Milton Friedman told us, there is no such thing as an unbalanced budget. All budgets are balanced by inflation.

As a result of the out-of-control federal budget and the resulting inflation, international agencies have downgraded the federal government’s financial rating from positive to neutral to negative for the first time in US history. The American dollar is being threatened as the reserve currency of the world. When the Chinese Yen or some other denomination is set as the world’s reserve currency, the dollar will be devalued, reducing its buying power even further – especially when spent on imports.

A recent economic analysis conducted by a cohort of Congressional Republicans might evoke a sense of nostalgia for January 2021 – the last time Donald Trump was president. An inflation tracking tool devised by Congress’s Joint Economic Committee members illustrates inflation’s impact on households across all states since that time. The report sets January 2021 as a reference point “because it was the last time inflation was within recent historical norms.”

According to the report’s findings, most American households now face the challenge of generating an extra $10,000 annually to maintain the same standard of living and access to goods and services they enjoyed when Biden became president. The cost of living varies by state, and so does the cost of inflation. In Illinois, the inflation since January 2021 has raised prices by 17.3%. The net result is that, on average, Illinoisians must now pay $11,566 more for the same purchase made at the Biden Administration’s start.

One might ask, “What difference does this make?” If one makes $75,000 per year or more (the amount a typical family of four needs to live comfortably if frugally), it probably doesn’t make much difference because one earns more than one needs. If one doesn’t have that income, the effects of inflation can be devastating. As one of my friends recently wrote, “When people voted for Biden’s policies, they put elderly people in a situation where they cannot afford their groceries, cannot afford to heat their house, cannot afford to have a single break from their constant work – because their life situation didn’t provide for them a suitable pension. Many people have been driven into extremely destitute situations. Comfortable people did this and don’t care.”

If one makes a more modest annual salary of, say, $50,000, there are significant consequences of mounting debt. According to a recent issue of The Kobeissi Letter, the total US household debt in the third quarter of 2023 rose $230 billion to a record of $17.29 trillion. The debt comes primarily from increasing mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and credit card debt. “The total household debt in the US is now up ~21% in 3 years and rising rapidly.” Many Americans are dealing with government-caused inflation by increasing their personal debt. Personal debt now averages $132,000 per household of four. Again, does any of this sound familiar? If we add the debt of the federal government, this increases another $327,000. Add the state of Illinois debt and… You get the picture.

Though motivated by different forces, increasing taxation also increases the cost of living and effectively augments inflation. If we continue to continually increase taxes as Democrats are wont to do rather than balance their budgets, Americans will face financial disaster – individually, as states, and as a nation. We are already seeing the insidious effects of inflation in other ways besides soaring prices and growing indebtedness. Inflation, culminating in economic hardship, often leads to growing poverty and increases in property crimes such as burglary and theft and white-collar crimes such as fraud and embezzlement. Those unwilling to commit crimes often find themselves homeless.

This social disaster can be averted only through changes in current fiscal policies, which are almost entirely “progressive.” Entitlement spending needs to be reined in, if not altogether eliminated. Deficit spending has to end. Illegitimate tax loopholes need to be closed. Ceaseless tax-and-spend policies have got to change. The stranglehold of unbridled taxes must be released so our economy can flourish. 

This will only likely happen with a new administration in the White House and conservative representation at all levels of government – local, state, and national. The next Illinois primary election will take place on March 19th. At that time, the parties will vote among their candidates for the various offices. Then, the winners of these primaries will face off in the general election next November.

Because there is so much at stake in these elections, everyone must become more aware of the issues and know where each candidate stands. It’s time to become fully informed so our emotions don’t carry us away come election time. The more voters become intellectually and socially engaged and vote, the better our chances that the best candidates will win. When that happens, we will be winners. To do anything less, we will continue to be losers.

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