It seems the price of everything from used cars to ground beef is on the rise these days, and right-wing politicians and pundits are all over President Joe Biden for failing to stop the pain. But one wonders: What would these GOP squawkers do if they or they were in charge?
Just look back to 1974, when families were hit with a double whammy of runaway inflation and crushing unemployment. Price spikes then exceeded 12%, nearly double what we are experiencing today – and President Gerald Ford and his Republican contingent in Congress rose to the challenge with a new economic stimulus package: “WIN”! But, in fact, “Whip Inflation Now” was just a political slogan and a magic button with no magic or action behind it. Price control? Jawboning? Antitrust action? No, no, that would have been so FDR/HST/LBJ-ish, and GOP, Inc., didn’t want to offend, let alone punish, corporate titans for a little profit.
Ford went on national TV to sell WIN. “I promise my next citizens,” he intoned solemnly, “that I will, whenever possible, purchase only those products and services priced at or below current levels.” The heart of the Republican “program” then consisted of telling hard-hit workers to fight the monopolistic behemoths of Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Food, et al., by simply refusing to pay inflated prices for gasoline. , medicines, groceries and other than — hellllooooo – they had to have.
In return for this economic punch, everyone who signed a form promising Gerry Ford that they would be an “inflation fighter” received a nifty WIN button, indicating their patriotic participation. Sure enough, the Americans responded with enthusiasm – with an avalanche of ridicule. Even Ford’s chief economic adviser, Alan Greenspan, who was at a White House meeting when the WIN initiative was first revealed to senior advisers, joined the skeptics: “It was surreal. … I thought to myself, ‘This is incredible stupidity. What am I doing here?'”
So here we are 48 years later, caught in another fog of inflationary surrealism, with Republican leaders (encouraged by a few Democratic senatorial flakes) doubling down on unbelievable stupidity. But this time we don’t even have a button. What we get is a reheated pot of right-wing political mush boiling down to one talking point: “It’s Biden’s fault.”
Last July, several GOP senators combined their 5-watt intellects to blame inflation for rising due to “the senseless fiscal and spending spree of President Biden and the Democrats.” Never mind that the “senseless” spending was for such sensitive and hugely popular national needs as child care and unemployment benefits; Senator Mitch McConnell’s fiercely partisan herd saw the opportunity to weaponize legitimate public concerns about rising prices. “You poor consumers,” they lamented, “are being forced to pay more for basics like groceries and gas because of ‘Socialist Joe’s’ investments in grassroots people.”
Follow the pinball ricochet of GOP logic:
#1: They say helping hard-hit families makes them refuse to go to work; #2: It creates bottlenecks in the global supply chain; No. 3: it causes shortages of everything; No. 4: it “forces” business leaders to raise all prices; which, n°5: castigates the middle and poor classes; So, #6: Lazy workers cause inflation.
Phew! Rube Goldberg could not have imagined a more fantastic scheme to mask a simple economic power grab. In reality, the US inflation problem is actually a problem of corporate greed.
Of course, the greedmeisters and their apologists are deeply offended by this accusation, huffing that their pursuit of corporate profit has not resulted in any price spikes. In our free-competition economy, they snap, consumer prices are set by the sacred law of supply and demand. They explain that when shortages occur, prices naturally rise, prompting additional production, which magically establishes a new supply/demand balance. Even if a monopolistic producer or cabal of producers tries to overcharge consumers, these new theoretical competitors will attract scammers’ customers and keep prices in check. In the sanctuary of this concept, the free market is a virtuous and self-regulating circle of competitive fairness.
But there’s a big problem with their virtuous circle: It’s a fraud that implodes when it hits the hard reality that our economy doesn’t look like a competitive market at all. Almost every economic sector in the United States (from high tech to agriculture and food) has been shut down by a handful of superpowered giants. For four decades, corporate-led government policies have intentionally encouraged (and even subsidized) mega-mergers; happily sanctioned anti-competitive business tactics; and aggressively instilled and celebrated the economic lie that bigger is better. So, in a short time and with virtually no public awareness, let alone discussion, America was transformed into Monopoly Nation.
To learn more about Jim Hightower and read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Pavlofox at Pixabay