The messy true story of the last time we beat inflation

“The monetary tightening inaugurated by Volcker was one part of an entire deflationary policy repertoire that also included union-busting and the creation of a global supply chain to hold down the costs of labor, components, and commodities.”

“The Fed might be able to choke off credit to slow investment and job creation, but it can’t create the real-world political, legal, and logistical systems that in the past have kept prices down even amid economic growth.
To truly tame prices, we can’t just turn off the money hose. We have to plan for more concrete long-term solutions to a lack of labor, commodities, and goods.”

“Volcker’s shock and central bank independence happened at the same time as Ronald Reagan’s anti-union effort; the emergence of New Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who were less sympathetic to organized labor than their New Deal and Great Society forebears; and the collapse of union membership across almost every sector of the economy except government. Volcker and his central banker colleagues were keenly aware of the importance of union power to increasing wages: The minutes of Fed meetings show that these policymakers fixated on the ability of unions to set wages even after many academic economists had moved on from the subject.”

” Just as Volcker’s rate hikes coincided with a bipartisan anti-union push, so the rise of central banks paralleled the acceleration of globalization and the creation of a world-spanning super-efficient “just in time” supply chain. New logistics infrastructure, trade deals, and methods of inventory management allowed firms to get cheap commodities and components from the other side of the world astonishingly quickly. Globalization also reinforced the attack on unions, since it allowed businesses to move factories to countries with weaker labor laws, humbling labor leaders of industrialized economies. After the 1980s, and especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, markets began to integrate many formerly communist countries with large, well-educated — but poorly paid — workforces and ample natural resources. The creation of global supply chains depended in large part on a relatively calm geopolitical scene, with no serious confrontations between “great powers,” who generally seemed to be on the same page regarding globalization.”

“It’s this model of globalization that is currently breaking down, leading to volatile rising prices. As anyone who has ordered a piece of furniture in the last two years can tell you, “just in time” has become a thing of the past. Instead of speedy manufacturing getting imported from any nation on earth, now we import their supply chain bottlenecks, as, say, plumbing component manufacturers in China hamstrung by that country’s “zero-Covid” policy hold up house completions in the United States.

While supply chain bottlenecks were widely predicted to ease in 2022, geopolitics got in the way. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent economic retaliation rocked global energy supplies, a particularly troubling economic disruption since energy is a vital component of nearly every product, and further poisoned relations between wealthy Western countries and Russia’s key ally, China, where so much of the stuff Americans buy is made. Instead of getting more cheap electronics from China, the world’s second-largest economy, the US is sanctioning the chip industry there.

If the Federal Reserve is largely removed from the internal dynamics of the labor market, it has even less to do with foreign policy and geo-strategic maneuvering.”

“We don’t want policymakers to make the mistake of fighting the last war. If we leave inflation up to the central bankers rather than continuing the push for coordinated investments in cost-saving renewable energy and dense housing, or policies that reverse the shrinkage of the labor supply since the pandemic, we won’t so much beat inflation as resign ourselves to a poorer, less-resilient future.”

Marco Rubio Wants To Make Your Groceries More Expensive

“Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) led a bipartisan group of lawmakers—all of them from Florida—in submitting a petition to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai seeking “an investigation” into what the lawmakers call “the flood of imported seasonal and perishable agricultural products from Mexico.” They ask Tai to invoke Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to impose “trade remedies” that will protect American growers from the scourge of…low-priced produce.

While they don’t come out and say it directly, it’s obvious from the letter that Rubio and his colleagues are seeking tariffs on Mexican produce. Section 301 is the same mechanism the Trump administration used to impose wide-ranging tariffs on goods imported from China. It’s a law that grants the executive branch broad, unilateral power over trade.

Rubio and the other lawmakers say the Mexican government is subsidizing its domestic agricultural infrastructure as part of a scheme to undercut the prices charged by U.S. growers. “Mexico poses a direct threat to Florida’s seasonal and perishable agricultural industry,” they conclude.”

“Anyone who has taken a basic economics class should be able to explain what’s happening there. A high level of supply tends to push prices downward. Whether grown in Mexico or Florida, it makes sense that cucumber prices would be at their lowest when there are a lot of cucumbers in the market.
But that’s not how Rubio and his colleagues see it. Instead, the petition describes this minor pricing difference as “a clear attempt to displace Florida cucumbers from the U.S. market.”

Take a moment to enjoy the fact that some of the most powerful men and women in the U.S. government are freaking out over the idea that American consumers might get to save a few cents on their next cucumber purchase. Then amuse yourself with the optics of American agricultural special interests—which are, of course, pulling Rubio’s strings here—complaining about subsidies, as if “direct government aid” doesn’t account for nearly 40 percent of American farmers’ annual income.

“These Florida politicians are following a time-honored tradition of trying to help their local constituents at the expense of Americans in other states, who benefit from low-priced fruits and vegetables regardless of where they are grown,” says Bryan Riley, director of the free trade initiative at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. “

Rising Grocery Prices Pushed Annual Inflation to 8.3 Percent in August

“So-called “core CPI,” which filters out the more volatile categories like food and fuel prices, rose by 0.6 percent in August. In short, falling gasoline prices helped to offset broader and more pernicious inflation across the rest of the economy.”

Rising rent prices are keeping inflation high

“Housing keeps getting more expensive — and even though new data shows that overall price increases are slowing down, surging rent prices underscore how difficult it could be to bring inflation under control.

Prices were 8.3 percent higher in August compared to a year before, according to the Consumer Price Index report released on Tuesday. That’s slower than it was the month before, when inflation climbed 8.5 percent, but it’s still uncomfortably high for consumers and policymakers. Prices picked up 0.1 percent from July to August.

One of the biggest drivers of inflation has been higher rent prices. According to data from Zillow, the typical US monthly rent was $2,090 in August, up 12.3 percent from a year before. That is much higher than it was before the pandemic — in February 2020, the nation’s average rent was $1,660.

According to the CPI report, shelter prices — which include rent, lodging away from home, and household insurance — rose 0.7 percent in August from the month before, the biggest monthly jump since 1991. The rent index by itself also increased 0.7 percent from July, and was up 6.7 percent from a year ago.”

“Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, said that rent prices could be decelerating as supply improves and landlords start to “get a little bit more realistic” about how much they can charge before they see more pushback from renters. But she said that rent prices in the CPI measure tend to move slowly, so it could take time for the government data to reflect the price deceleration that private-sector data may already be picking up.

That’s largely because the government data also takes into account existing rentals, while many private data sources only examine prices for new leases to capture current market conditions. Since rents typically change when leases expire, which tends to happen annually, this can lead to a lag in government data.

“I think we’re close to beginning to see a slowdown in the monthly rate of the price gain,” House said. “But it’s still likely to remain pretty strong in a historical sense for some time.”

Omair Sharif, the founder and president of research firm Inflation Insights, also said rent price gains could slow in the coming months as the CPI measure eventually catches up to private-sector data.

“Around the end of this year into the first quarter of next year, we should probably start to see the CPI data start to mimic more closely what we’re seeing in terms of that deceleration,” Sharif said.

A deceleration in rental price growth could help bring down overall inflation closer to the Fed’s goal of 2 percent annual inflation. Although prices for rent, food, and medical care climbed in August, prices for gasoline, used cars, and airline fares dropped.

Still, mortgage rates have skyrocketed to their highest levels since 2008 and home prices remain much higher than they were before the pandemic. That has made it harder for people to afford monthly payments, leading to some potential homebuyers being priced out of the market. If people continue renting rather than buying, that could drive up demand for rentals and keep prices high.”

How Tariffs Are Making Summer Fun More Expensive, Less Safe

“Tariffs aren’t merely making summer fun more expensive—they are also making it potentially more dangerous too.

“Life Saver is not a misnomer,” writes Neil Mooney, an attorney representing Life Saver Pool Fence Systems, Inc., in testimony submitted earlier this month to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), which later this week will hold a hearing on the economic impact of the multitude of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration in 2018.

For a company like Life Saver, which manufactures fencing meant to keep children away from unsupervised pools where they might accidentally drown, the tariffs have hiked the cost of raw materials imported from China. In his written testimony, Mooney estimates that the company has paid about $1.2 million in tariffs over the past four years—and has twice had to raise prices “specifically because of the tariffs.”

“The imposition of the Section 301 tariffs has forced Life Saver to raise its prices which inevitably has led to lower sales volume and therefore fewer protected pools,” writes Mooney. “The economic impact of the Section 301 tariffs is not only felt by Life Saver and other similar businesses and their employees, but also by the end consumers—American families.”

Are higher taxes on Chinese-made imports worth leaving American children marginally less safe?

Apparently so, at least for the past two presidential administrations. Former President Donald Trump used Section 301 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1974 to impose tariffs on a wide range of goods imported from China in several phases during 2018 and 2019. As a result, the average tariff rate applied to goods from China effectively doubled. Cumulatively, Americans have paid about $136 billion in higher costs as a result of those import taxes—that’s about $1,000 per household, according to research by the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit that opposes the tariffs.

Tariffs are adding to inflation, too. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a trade-focused think tank, found that repealing tariffs could reduce overall inflation by about 1 percentage point. Despite that, the Biden administration has so far been unwilling to do more than talk about repealing the tariffs imposed by Trump.”

Better Immigration Laws Could Help Lower Food Prices

“Known as the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, the measure was sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D–Calif.) and Dan Newhouse (R–Wash.) and passed the House twice last year. It aims to improve the immigration mechanics behind the U.S. agricultural workforce, expanding legal pathways available to foreign workers and the domestic farmers who hope to hire them.

The ability to hire more agricultural workers translates into more helping hands for farmers and increased production of goods, which then means fewer food shortages and lower prices at the grocery store.”

Elizabeth Warren Wants To Stop Airline Mergers, Despite Evidence That They Lower Airfares

“”Data on overall traffic trends supports the notion that the average flier has not been negatively affected by consolidation,” the Eno Center for Transportation, a research nonprofit, found in 2017. “As the industry has consolidated and grown throughout the decades, the number of seats that are available for passenger use—available seat miles—has increased multiple times over. By some measures, the cost of domestic air travel has remained level since 2006, adjusting for inflation.”

However, there is some evidence that certain mergers have led to price increases. As a 2016 data analysis by travel writer JT Genter found, “On average, airfares between former Delta and Northwest hubs increased substantially—much more than the national average—demonstrating that the Delta-Northwest merger wasn’t good for hub-based flyers.” Genter continued, “However, airfares between United and Continental hubs have seen much more modest increases over the last five years, and the fares have actually decreased on average over the last four years.”

Current evidence, though not uniformly supportive of all mergers, points toward them being generally good for consumers. Larger airlines tend to mean more flights at similar or lower prices—especially when traveling through hubs. Even when evidence points to some mergers resulting in price hikes for consumers, Warren and Padilla’s assertions that airline consolidation “routinely heaps inconvenience and abuse on consumers” are exaggerated.”

Mark Cuban’s Drug Company Could Save Medicare Billions

“Mark Cuban’s online pharmacy was founded to sell prescription drugs at the lowest and most transparent prices possible. As Cuban recently told PBS News Weekend, when it comes to medication, “the reality is the only number that matters is cost. What can we as the retailer or the distributor, buy it for and how low can we sell it? So we decided to take the exact opposite approach that politicians have been taking.”

That approach involves selling generic drugs for a 15 percent markup, plus $3 for pharmacy labor and $5 shipping. The result is that Cuban’s company is able to sell generic drugs at significantly lower rates than typical retail prices. For example, a 30-day supply of Amlodipine, a common high blood pressure medication, costs only $3.60 at Cost Plus Drugs, while the typical retail price is $50.10.

Some drugs have even higher savings.”

“Cuban’s company is restricted to unpatented generic drugs. While Cuban can sell these drugs at a massive discount, it is worth noting that research into new drugs, as well as the costs of clinical trials, is funded by the high profit margins derived from patents. While Cost Plus Drugs is a welcome innovation for drugs that are no longer patented, Cuban’s business model likely can’t fund drug innovation.”

“Cuban himself notes that Cost Plus Drugs isn’t the first company to try this approach, but it is the first to succeed”

“Last week, a new study from the Annals of Internal Medicine estimated that if Medicare Part D plans had purchased generic drugs from Cuban’s company, Medicare could have saved $3.6 billion in 2020.”

“Cuban has been vocal on Twitter about the study, asking President Joe Biden and other political leaders to “have your people call my people and let’s get this done.” However, as exciting as reducing Medicare’s budget sounds, progress on the issue seems unlikely. Legislative solutions to the high price of prescription drugs have often been slow-moving and stalled by partisan bickering.”