“Inflation has been a nasty grinch for the past few years—seemingly stealing away our hard-earned dollars while we sleep.
But the rising prices throughout much of the economy make it a little easier to appreciate the things that seem to be inflation-proof.
Like video games. When The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released in 1998, it cost $69.99 to order through the Sears catalog. Another Zelda game, Tears of the Kingdom, was released this year—25 years later—and it retailed for $70. That actually made it one of the most expensive games of the year, since most new Nintendo games these days sell for about $60.
Do the math. If Zelda games had kept pace with inflation, the new one should have cost about $130 today.
Sure, games today achieve some cost-savings because they’re digital downloads. That means production companies like Nintendo don’t have to pay for a physical game cartridge or CD-ROM, packaging, or shipping. But games today are also far, far more advanced than anything you could have bought for any amount of money a quarter-century ago.
It’s not just video games that have defied inflation’s steady creep. Toys in general are less expensive today, even before adjusting for inflation, than they were a few decades ago. That’s despite the fact that wages have grown significantly over the same period of time. The average worker in the United States made about $13 an hour in December 1998, compared to about $29 dollar per hour now.
This is true over longer periods of time too. As I wrote earlier this year, the amount of work necessary to buy a single new Barbie has fallen quite a bit since the doll was introduced. According to what University of Central Arkansas economist Jeremy Horpedahl has termed the “Barbie Price Index,” the average American woman has to work about 30 minutes to afford a Barbie—down from about two hours in 1959, when the doll first appeared on store shelves.
In fact, toys are so much cheaper today that some columnists say it’s a problem. “A toy that cost $20 in 1993 would cost only $4.68 today,” writes Katie Notopoulos, a senior correspondent at Business Insider.”
“The Middle East war is widening, but that may be better than the alternative: new inflationary pressure from an obscure fundamentalist militia 8,000 miles from US shores.
The US and UK militaries finally struck back at Houthi forces in Yemen on Jan. 11 and 12, in response to at least 27 Houthi attacks on commercial ships navigating the Red Sea between northern Africa and Saudi Arabia. There were legitimate military reasons for the retaliatory strikes, given that the Houthis have targeted US and allied forces, including Israel. But there was a powerful economic incentive too: The attacks on commercial vessels were starting to drive up shipping costs and threatening to reignite inflation, just as the Biden administration feels it is finally taming the biggest barrier to a second term for President Biden.
The Red Sea is a crucial shipping lane because the Suez Canal, at its northern tip, connects waters that serve Western markets with the Indian Ocean and routes to Asia. Ships unable to transit the Red Sea need to take the much longer and costlier journey around the southern tip of Africa. About 15% of world trade transits the area.”
“The actual problem here is prices.
They’re not going up nearly as much as they were in, say, the middle of last year, but they’re by and large not declining en masse, either. And in most cases, they won’t get back to where they were in the Before Times.
“Inflation in the US is falling relatively quickly compared to all of our other peer countries, and we have the strongest growth out of the recession,” said Felicia Wong, president and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank. “But people don’t just want falling inflation numbers, they actually want deflation.”
Deflation probably isn’t in the cards (and the rub is we don’t want it to be). Higher prices might just be the sort of thing we’ve all got to get used to. The truth is we’re never going back to how things were in 2019 — we won’t be returning to the office at the same levels, we’ll never hear “corona” and only think of beer, and that night on the town is going to cost us more than it did before.”
“Basically, if I get a raise at work, I think it’s because I’m awesome. That may be partly true, but that’s not all that’s going on — it’s also that the labor market is tight and wages broadly are going up. My current employer doesn’t want to lose me, and my future employer would have to pay me a little more to lure me away.
While many people see their employment situations (good or bad) as something they’ve earned, they see inflation as something that’s happening to them and that it’s the government’s fault. “The reality is inflation takes away and it gives back. It takes away, prices go up, and it gives back, wages catch up,” said Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan. “But you code what it takes away as inflation’s fault but what it gives back as your own genius.””
“The rate of inflation really is slowing (and, if all goes well, will continue to do so), and the disorienting nature of what’s happened in the economy over the past few years will likely fade. Post-pandemic prices will eventually feel normal, and post-pandemic wages should make those prices more feasible — or at least not significantly less feasible than they were before. Sooner or later, sticker shock will feel a little less shocking.”
“Inflation has fallen from the shocking highs that were reached last year, but the Federal Reserve’s efforts have not successfully returned the beast to its cage.
If rising prices are to be fully tamed, it increasingly looks like Congress will have to get the deficit under control first.
Prices are up 3.7 percent over the past year, according to new inflation data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday morning. But so-called “core inflation,” which filters out the more volatile categories like food and fuel prices, rang in at 4.1 percent in the newest report. Some smaller categories have seen considerably faster price hikes over the past 12 months—shelter prices, which include rents and hotel costs, are up 7.2 percent.
In an attempt to control inflation, the Federal Reserve had raised interest rates at 11 consecutive meetings starting in March of last year. Since July, the central bank has left interest rates unchanged—the Fed’s current base rate is 5.5 percent, up from 3.25 percent a year ago. Higher interest rates seem to have brought inflation down, but prices are still rising nearly twice as fast as the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent annually.
It’s possible that we’ve reached the limit of what the Federal Reserve can accomplish in terms of taming inflation through monetary policy. The federal government’s $33 trillion national debt and rising budget deficits are creating inflationary pressure in ways that remain underappreciated.
The big problem is that, while higher interest rates are helping curb inflation, they are worsening the federal government’s deficit. Writing at CNBC, Kelly Evans gets at the heart of this conundrum: “If we don’t quickly close the gap between spending and revenues, the debt load will keep growing, and interest costs will keep on rising, and the deficit will thus stay elevated, which grows the debt load even more.””
“Changes to monetary policy have brought inflation down from last year’s near-record highs, but the monetary theory upon which that policy is built assumes that fiscal policy will finish the job by reducing deficits. Congress, so far, doesn’t seem interested in cooperating—so expect prices to keep rising at an annoyingly fast rate.”
“According to Freddie Mac, the rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has climbed to 7.09 percent, an uptick from the 5.13 percent it was at a year prior.
A mortgage rate is “the interest rate charged for a home loan,” and effectively the monthly cost of borrowing that money. As mortgage rates have gone up, monthly payments have gotten more and more pricey for people looking to purchase a home even if the base price of the house stays the same.
For example, under a 3.22 percent 30-year fixed mortgage rate in January 2022, the monthly payment on a $400,000 house in New York with a 20 percent down payment was $1,716, per a Bankrate calculator. Now, under a 7.09 percent mortgage rate in August 2023, the monthly payment on the same house with the same price would be $2,477.
Such costs have had an impact on the housing market: As mortgage rates have increased, some potential buyers have held off on purchasing houses, while sellers have similarly been less likely to list their property. For current homeowners, there’s a major incentive to wait until rates go down before deciding to re-enter the market and search for their next house.
“These higher mortgage costs are a tremendous barrier to entry for anyone wanting to enter the housing market,” Gregory Daco, the chief economist for Ernst & Young, tells Vox.”
“One of the biggest factors in the rise in mortgage rates is the Fed’s approach to monetary policy, which includes interest rate hikes aimed at combating inflation.”
“The hike in bond yields and subsequent rise in mortgage rates caught some people off-guard since there was no comparable reaction after the Standard & Poor’s downgrade. But that took place in different economic times when the U.S. government had more room to maneuver.”
“”Inflation is the economic equivalent of a partial default. The debt was sold under a 2% inflation target, and people expected that or less inflation. The government borrowed and printed $5 Trillion with no plan to pay it back, devaluing the outstanding debt as a result,” he cautions. “Yes, this is not a formal default. And a formal default would have far reaching financial consequences that inflation does not have. Still, for a bondholder it’s the same thing.”
Having been burned by the U.S. government’s policies, investors perceive it as an increasingly risky borrower, just as Fitch (and S&P in 2011) say. As a result, they demand a greater price to loan the feds money—hence higher bond yields. And since 10-year Treasury yields serve as benchmarks for other borrowing rates, such as mortgages, that means higher cost for average Americans who have little say in D.C.’s financial shenanigans but have to suffer the consequences.”
“”Such high and rising debt would slow economic growth, push up interest payments to foreign holders of U.S. debt, and pose significant risks to the fiscal and economic outlook,” according to the CBO.
That means unpleasant consequences not just for government officials, but for those of us who live in the economy they hobble. The government will have to pay more to borrow, and so will we. We’ll do so in a country less prosperous than it should have been.”
“the changes are a significant step backward. Biden is effectively undoing a major change made by the Reagan administration—changes that were made, fittingly, to help combat inflation.
That change, made in 1982, repealed the “30 percent rule” that guided the process for determining what wages would be paid on which projects. Under the 30 percent rule, the prevailing wage for any particular area would be based on the highest wages paid to at least 30 percent of workers within the same area.
You don’t need an advanced degree in accounting to see how that mandate could artificially hike wages on federal projects. The government barred itself from even considering bids that might pay average wages, thereby obligating taxpayers to pay more than they might have had to in an open market.”
“wages aren’t as fluid as, say, gas prices, which seem to jump up or down in an instant. There are reasons for this. Gas prices are easily observed and easily changed, and people will happily switch stations to save a few cents per gallon. Labor markets aren’t like this at all. Switching jobs takes time and effort, and many workers are reluctant to give up the devil they know for the devil they don’t. Employers capitalize on this situation by adjusting wages slowly, if at all.”
“High inflation, combined with slow wage adjustment, drives purchasing power down. And this is true not just for the US. Canada’s post-Covid pay has followed the same trajectory as ours, and it is not alone.”
“To climb out of this hole, real wages will have to start growing again. The good news is that they already have. Annual real wage changes turned positive in February; month-on-month changes turned positive late last year. In this respect, we are doing well. Most European economies still haven’t seen real wage growth.
Furthermore, this hole is shallower than it may seem. Since late 2020, real wage reductions have cost households a little less than $1 trillion. That is a lot, without a doubt, but it is less than half of what households received in Covid-related transfers — stimulus payments, expanded unemployment insurance, child care credits, and the like — which amounted to $2 trillion. That puts them well ahead of where they were in March 2020, which is why people report that their own finances are doing just fine, even while they trash the state of the economy.”
“What we need to free ourselves from is the preconception that low unemployment alone makes a good labor market. Where we actually are is simple to understand. Dollar wages adjust slowly to price increases. Inflation has raised prices a lot, reducing purchasing power. As a result, the public is not happy about the economy.”
“An avian flu outbreak devastated the poultry industry throughout 2022. By the end of the year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there were 43 million fewer egg-laying hens than in February 2022. Egg inventories fell 29 percent from January to December. When demand outstrips supply, prices go up.
A similar outbreak in late 2014 affected more than 50 million birds. According to Fed data, egg prices rose from $1.96 a dozen in May 2015 to $2.96 in September 2015 before falling for more than a year afterward.
The 2022 outbreak, by contrast, persisted into 2023. At the same time, general inflation was unusually high: 6.5 percent in 2022, compared to 0.7 percent in 2015. “Like consumers,” the American Feed Industry Association noted in January 2023, “feed manufacturers are feeling the effects of inflation on the economy and are paying increased rates for energy, shipping, labor and ingredients.” So even as the number of hens dropped, the cost of feeding them rose.
The good news is that egg prices began falling after January’s high. Average egg prices fell from $4.82 a dozen in January to $4.21 in February and $3.45 in March. The USDA predicted that, barring an avian flu resurgence, prices would continue to fall throughout the year.”