Yesterday, it was reported that the rate of inflation rose to 6.8%, the highest it has reached in 40 years. New polling shows what most of us know instinctively: rising costs at the grocery store, the gas pump and virtually everywhere in between is a top concern for voters as we head into the 2022 midterm elections. As a result of this deeply and broadly felt concern, leaders in government, media and business are stepping up to offer their own explanations for why inflation is so high. 

One easy explanation (the one that seems to be getting the most play in mainstream media and in elite power circles) is that the primary driver of inflation is government spending on social programs designed to help poor and working class people preserve life and limb through a once in a generation public health crisis. Senator Joe Manchin, for instance, has asserted that inflation was one of his primary reasons for blocking legislation that would have made real investments in American families like extending the expanded Child Tax Credit and making paid family leave available to more households.

Inflation is higher than it has been since 1982. But while easy, the “we invested too much in families” explanation simply is not true. The propagation of this false narrative in media and in government stands to have a catastrophic impact on our policy making environment. Congress has already returned 3 million American children to life in poverty by allowing the expanded CTC to expire. But, there is also a mental and emotional cost that poor and working class families pay as they internalize a sense of shame brought on as the loudest voices in our society repeatedly shout at them that a few small steps toward prosperity for them is ruining the nation’s economy. 

That is immoral. And it is time to stop “inflation shaming” working class people.

 

What’s Really Driving Inflation?

The reality is that our inflation problem is caused by several factors simultaneously impacting the economy. In the last several months, many of us have heard more about “supply chains'' than we ever wanted to hear. The basic concept is that the outlets that sell products directly to consumers are finding it difficult to get the products they need to meet the demand of all of the customers who want to purchase those products. Since the demand is outpacing the supply, prices are going up.

So, what’s behind these supply chain issues?

Obviously, the forced shutdown of the global economy during the pandemic slowed the ability of suppliers to move raw materials, manufacture goods, and get those goods to customers. But, the crisis did not have to be this bad. Over decades, corporations have moved more and more production outside of the United States in order to maximize profits for shareholders. 

Then there’s over reliance on “just-in-time” delivery. As one observer pointed out, “The pre-COVID red-hot economy of 2019 was a finely-tuned machine. Manufacturers, farmers, restaurants and retailers relied on what they needed to be delivered ‘just-in-time’. They got just what they needed, just when they needed it, keeping inventory costs down and making the economic machine as efficient as possible.” This dependence on foreign suppliers and lack of standing inventory broke the supply side of the market. It is not fair or reasonable to suggest that there are chronic levels of artificial demand simply because the Congress acted to help keep everyday people connected to some meager income during the crisis. 

Even with all of the supply chain issues, there is yet another driver of inflation that is not getting enough attention in mainstream media. As Matt Stoller points out in his thoughtful piece on the matter, corporate profits are the driver behind fully 60% of the inflation increases we’ve experienced (at a cost of $2,126 per American). That’s right, corporations are literally taking advantage of the inflationary environment by jacking up prices on hard working Americans because they know that increases (in the current environment) will be blamed on the virus, supply chain issues, and no small amount of shaming working class people for accepting a little help from government programs and demanding more fairness from employers. 

 

Silence From Our Leaders Is Acquiescence To A False Narrative

As President Biden and congressional Democrats use the beginning of this new year to move on from discussions about economic equity, supporting workers, and solving inflation, it is hard not to assume that they have bought into the shaming; calculating (wrongly) that their major misstep since the beginning of the administration was focusing too much on investing in families and communities. The working class is watching as the leaders who started off as champions of economic justice and concrete gains for working people change course; deciding that the real “battle for the soul of America” is over voting regulations rather than who is able to earn a dignified living, afford to buy groceries, heat their homes, and fuel their cars.

It’s hard when your friends seem to abandon you in a fight. It is natural, when that happens, to do some soul searching and question the merits and efficacy of the endeavor. But even though talk of transformational change in our economy has been buried under an avalanche of tough talk on omnibus voting reforms and hand wringing over generational inflation, most of us are still living the reality of having barely enough to get by (and in many cases not enough) all the while being tacitly blamed and told that it was our desire and efforts for change that made the economy so much worse.

The passions of those with platforms seem to have moved on. But, working people all over America are still right to demand more for their families and communities.

 

Don’t Give Up The Fight

Something is going to be done about inflation. But what that “something” is will depend heavily on which narrative about the causes of inflation is allowed to thrive. If the Larry Summers “working class Americans have too much money for their own good” narrative gains dominance, the so-called solution is clear: cut off as many financial access points for working people as possible. If that narrative were true, we’d need to restart student loan payments, nix the expanded Child Tax Credit, reign in innovations around our unemployment system, and quash any conversation about a basic income guarantee. 

But if record inflation is actually the result of fragile supply chains, over reliance on foreign suppliers, and price fixing all driven by corporate greed and government ineffectiveness, then another set of solutions is in order. The solutions, in this case, involve regulating price fixing, incentivizing American production, and injecting resources to strengthen supply chains. 

Friends, the inflation shaming of working Americans has to stop. That narrative has to die. Unfortunately, I don’t think that we can depend on so-called allies in powerful positions in government, business, and the mainstream media to drown it out. We have to speak for ourselves: at our breakfast tables, on our little blogs, and with our ballots.

Christopher Butler

About

I love my family. I lead a church. I labor with @ANDCampaign. I’m running for U.S. Congress @ButlerforIL1