Archive for November 27th, 2005

Whatever Happened to Inflation

2

One
of our failings as a pseudo-intellectual is our inability to believe
something that we read, no matter how logical it seems, no
matter how
authoritative the source, until and unless we see it, or better yet
feel it, in our own life. It seems as though it has to be reduced
to a form and scale that we can comprehend with our limited intellect,
in
human terms, in our direct experience of the world, before we will buy into something.

Until then, it’s all just words, and to a certain extent
theoretical in a way that even Darwin’s theory of evolution is not. After
all, we can feel in our gut that we are related, not only to the apes,
but to all sorts of creatures filling the nooks and crannies of the
tree of life. Why, one need only look closely at our first wife’s extended
family to be immediately convinced of the scientific certainty of evolution.

As surprising as it seem to our younger readers, cynicism
as to the reliability of sources is nothing new to the internet age. Just look at the Protocols
of the
Elders of Zion. Admittedly, it is easier than ever to falsify a sources,
or create an authoritative lie, but we learned early that books lie, too,
and periodicals, due no doubt to their transitory nature, are positively
pathological.

In this vein, it has been hard
for us to accept
, despite
the overwhelming preponderance of evidence, that we are not in the middle
of an inflationary
economy. With the price of oil more than doubling, we figured sooner or later
everything had to start going up. Energy is a component in the price
of virtually all good and services offered in the marketplace.

And we could feel the rising prices all around us.  In
our own field, higher education, costs have been rising at double-digit
rates for over
a decade, and continue to skyrocket. Even besides gasoline, tons of stuff
we buy every week, like milk and eggs, seemed to be going up every time
we went to the market. Health insurance and drugs were
more expensive every time we bought them. Tickets to everything from sporting
events to concerts had gone up so much they were out of reach, and even going
to the movies had become a major expense.

We were convinced the Office of Management and Budget was jimmying
the stats
, rigging the numbers to hide the inflation we were sure had to be happening
all over the country. It seemed laughable that they kept reporting inflation
in the 2-3 % range.

But last Friday, Black Friday as it has come to be known,
according to a source in the retail industry, for the black ink of the
SALES signs,
we were in our local Target buying a Toastmaster 12-cup drip coffee machine.  Price
– $4.14.  We also decided to pick up  the Toastmaster electric
slow cooker for the same price – four dollars and fourteen cents. Later that
day we bent to the MicroCenter by MIT and bought a CaseLogic nylon camera
bag, for $5.99.  All three items, as well as our $400 Nikon Camera,
were made in China.

The United States has been the richest country on the
planet for almost a hundred years now, since the days a century ago when
we were the number
one oil producer AND consumer in the world. But for most of that century
the highest standard of living on the planet went hand in hand with the highest
cost of living.  Things were expensive in the US, especially compared
with the less-developed countries.

Generations of Americans fell in love with world travel
when they discovered that in the markets of Mexico City or Marrakech, one
could purchase a beautiful
hand-woven serape for $5.  People in the third world may have only
earned $4 dollars a day, but you could buy A LOT OF SHIT for four dollars
in Sri
Lanka. Today, thanks to Globalization, we can all get our $5 serapes at our
local WalMart.  The
Mexican bazaar has come to suburbia.

Finally, after centuries of entrenchment and refinement,
capitalism has matured into full bloom – a world wide system uniting all
the resources and
human productive capacity into a single marvelous machine, serving the
ends of – guess who?  Us! Americans and Europeans, especially white
males of a certain age. And why not? After all, it was guys like us who
came up with this system in the first place!

Because of the triumph of capitalism and free trade, Americans now have
direct access to cheap stuff from every country on the planet. Of course,
it works both ways, and the Indians living in stilted reed houses over Lake
Titicaca could buy iPods and Jeep Cherokees, if they had any money or use
for such things.

So we should be happy, no? The fruits of capitalism are
allowing an entire nation, 5% of the planet’s population, to live like
kings, have every gadget
and gizmo known to man, more high-tech entertainment than a lifetime of leisure
would allow them to enjoy, and access to the entire sum of human knowledge
up to this point in the history of the species. What’s not to like?

Of course, we are becoming a nation of debt-ridden idlers,
increasingly living off the labors of others and loans from abroad.  We
have eliminated the factory worker and hard-scrabble qualities that made
him great, from
the American panorama. We may not actually produce much of anything anymore,
other than ideas and slick schemes for selling them. We are dependent on
foreigners for our oil and cash loans to pay our bills. We,
in turn,
are
financing
the
new
little
rich kid
on the block, the next great empire that is destined to displace us as the
economic and military center of gravity in  the new millennia, the Chinese.

But don’t worry about that stuff, folks.  Minor macro-economic details.
Years in the future.  For now, we’ve got the Xbox 2 and the Superbowl
to look forward to. And, thank God and the Chinese, we don’t have inflation
to worry about any more.

Free Christmas

ø

zanda

Evokative photo. Not sure what it evokes, exactly. Santa a captive of Christmas? Santa a captive of childhood? Christmas a captive of Capitalism? Christmas gets more surreal every year….