The Many Faces of Inflation
The Many Faces of Inflation

By Jeffrey A. Tucker

A few nights ago at a restaurant I ordered a dish of Mediterranean prawns that sounded delicious by the description. The reality was a huge pile of large croutons with four shrimps sitting on top, each of which came to about $8 per shrimp.

Yes, disappointing but don’t blame the restaurant. It’s the reality of doing business in a high-inflation environment.

Another friend reports the following:

“I took my kids to a coffee shop in Seattle-Tacoma Airport yesterday. Three small chai lattes, two bottles of water, four cheese sticks, one inedible ham/cheese sandwich, and one single-serving bag of chips. Bill was $90.”

Such anecdotal stories are important to understanding the reality of our times. This is because the official data is simply way off, for a number of known reasons. There is clearly no chance that inflation has been running 3 to 5 percent. Once you do all the corrections to the data, you can easily generate a number 3 times that level or perhaps even 4 or 5.

No one knows for sure.

It’s not just higher prices for the same goods and services you used to buy. With the help of others, here are ways that inflation is felt besides the obvious metric of the overall index.

Inflation can appear as shrinkflation with smaller packaging or less product in the same packaging. The price is up but that should also be adjusted for the amount of what you are actually purchasing. Every fast food restaurant is way up in terms of price but also, crucially, they are actually serving less food.

Food sellers are also putting forward the cheaper part of ingredients (potatoes, pasta, breads, rice) while reducing the amount of meat and fish that are part of the same meal package. They charge more and dress it up like it is a feast but you are actually only carbo loading. This is a form of inflation.

Service costs are often not considered as part of inflation but have a look at what you are paying for haircuts, pet grooming, car repair, hosting services, and basic medical care. These days, it seems like people hardly move at all without figuring out some sneaky way to access your bank account. It’s a bit of a shock, and a huge change in the ethos of enterprise. But the reality is all around us.

There are also increases in taxes and fees, again not usually considered as part of the inflation calculation. My own town charges to have a car (don’t be shocked; many do this). The fee this year is double what it was last year. It is called a tax and what determines it? I have no idea. They probably have some fancy formula but essentially this is the local government getting whatever money they can in whatever ways they are allowed, with essentially no limit on how high the fee/tax is. What are you going to do, get rid of your car or move? Of course you pay it.

Shipping and delivery charges are part of inflation but not correctly assessed in the data. About ten years ago, you could easily send an overnight letter in physical form to most places in the country for morning delivery for about $10–12. These days, that is inconceivable. Getting the same thing there in two days will cost twice that. Overnight delivery is pretty much unheard of these days.

I tried to ask why this is. The answer is that it is so expensive that the service has been largely eliminated. In this very real way, you can see that we are tremendously poorer now than we were a decade ago. Hardly anyone notices this or talks about it because change was slow enough not to bother noticing. But the change is still very real.

Your phone and utility bills are the same. These are not normal retail prices. They are typically hooked directly into your bank account. The cellphone bill is tremendously confusing. You know this if you have ever looked at the details. There are extra charges, overages, equipment fees, upgrades, taxes in every jurisdiction, and many more besides. It’s truly complicated beyond probably any billing service that has ever existed.

How do consumers deal with it? They pay the bill. Do you really want to call and spend hours sorting through it all and disputing various charges and being transferred from one person to another? Your time is also expensive. It’s never worth it, even if you get $15 knocked off your bill.

All of this stuff is complicated for a reason. It’s because all companies today are hiding their charges from the customer for fear of a revolt. If they are hiding them from the customer, they obviously and easily hide them from the data mavens at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s the same with your utility bill. Whatever it is, you assume (probably correctly) that this reflects usage and inflation. There is one company serving your area and it’s not like there is any price competition or service downgrades possible. What do you do? You pay the bill.

Remember the days of promotions, discounts, credits for loyalty, freebies for trying, invites to new openings and so on? Those used to be the norm. They are increasingly rare. This again is a form of inflation: what used to be discounted or free is now full price. There is simply no way that any data collection can account for what no longer exists.

Let’s talk about insurance. Here is where things have gone completely haywire. The actuaries determine and price the risk associated with various contingencies and suggest the premiums. If the costs of funding the contingencies—car crash, tree falling on the roof, house fire, whatever—rise and rise, that increase will be reflected in the premiums.

Neither home nor auto insurance are included in the calculation of the Consumer Price Index.

As for health insurance, the index is calculated not only by what you pay but also what you consume. That means that the more you consume, even if your premiums rise, prices will be finally rendered as a decrease. Crazy but true. And of course these days, health insurance premiums are going way up. It’s another consequence of inflation.

Another feature of today’s inflation is the increase in interest paid on all loans, including business loans, personal loans, mortgages, car payments, credit card accounts, and of course interest on the national debt. We’ve seen massive increases in interest over three years, and none are typically considered in inflation calculations.

Finally, we have the increase in rents and home prices. They are not calculated as part of inflation.

When you add it all up, and I cannot hope to be the one to do so, especially because much of this is not subject to any calculation, we find something approaching what used to be called hyperinflation. And this is taking place even as the business press is celebrating the end of inflation, and has been for fully two years!

Strange times indeed: the dollar is being gradually wrecked domestically while growing stronger internationally, and it’s never really been in the headlines. This is why you feel so gaslit these days.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USNN World News.


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