The High Price of Being Single in America
Champion of Truth
“A widespread avian flu outbreak devastated the poultry industry in 2022, causing the deaths of more than 43 million hens. December egg inventories were down nearly 30 percent from the year before, just in time for the holiday baking season. Under the basic rules of economics, a persistent drop in supply leading into a time of increased demand is bound to have this result.”
“”We find that excess inflation is significantly correlated to each country’s own domestic stimulus and to various exposures of foreign stimulus,” concluded a trio of economists at the St. Louis Federal Reserve in a report published last month. In the U.S., they found that “fiscal stimulus during the pandemic contributed to an increase in inflation of about 2.6 percentage points.”
That’s a significant increase, even if it doesn’t account for the full run-up of inflation that took place during the past 18 months. Price increases accelerated in late 2021 and throughout 2022, ultimately peaking at an annualized rate of 9.1 percent in June.
“Other recent reviews of COVID-era stimulus bills have come to a similar conclusion. In a paper published in September, economists at Johns Hopkins University and the Chicago Federal Reserve said “fiscal inflation” accounted for “approximately half” of the recent price increases.
That’s troubling, they added, because “fiscal inflation tends to be highly
persistent…When inflation has a fiscal nature, monetary policy alone may not provide an effective response.”
So far, the chief response to inflation has been a monetary one.””
“The squeeze on eggs is so bad that some grocery stores are reporting shortages, and some are even limiting the number of cartons customers can purchase.
It’s a significant change for what’s long been a reliably cheap staple, and there’s one major culprit: the bird flu.”
“The last year has brought the worst bird flu outbreak in US history, and there are no signs it’s going to relent soon. Some 57.8 million birds in the US — mostly egg-laying hens — have died as a result of bird flu outbreaks surpassing the previous record of 50.5 million in 2015, and it’s not letting up. Just in the 10 days prior to Christmas, 1.5 million egg-laying hens died.
The virus is expected to continue to circulate among wild birds and the ones we raise for food for the duration of winter, meaning egg prices — along with prices for turkey — could remain high for the foreseeable future.”
“most victims don’t die from the virus itself. Rather, they’re culled, or proactively killed, in a brutal effort to prevent the virus from doing even more damage.”
“a major reason why bird flu is so destructive in the US is that factory farms — with so many chickens and turkeys in such close quarters — are the perfect playing field for the virus, which is why farmers are so quick to cull infected flocks. But that very fact raises a simple, but surprisingly controversial question: If avian flu is so deadly and so economically destructive, why on earth aren’t we vaccinating birds against the virus?”
“For countries in which poultry exports make up a big share of the industry’s revenue — such as the US and many European countries — vaccines have largely been a nonstarter, even though they have the potential to severely limit the death toll of mass culling. Why? Blame the “DIVA” problem.
DIVA is short for “differentiating infected from vaccinated animals” — the challenge of identifying whether a bird is actually infected with avian influenza, or just has avian influenza antibodies after vaccination. Countries fear that importing eggs or slaughtered meat from vaccinated birds in countries where the virus is circulating could inadvertently spread it within their own borders by introducing the virus to wild or domesticated animals through discarded raw meat. That means that big poultry exporters like the US — which sends 18 percent of its poultry abroad — don’t vaccinate, for fear they’ll miss out on a huge part of their revenue: international trade.”
“without international coordination and predictable vaccine use, it doesn’t make economic sense for vaccine makers to invest in developing vaccines that protect against the bird flu. “We’re not going to make [massive investments] unless we’ve got major markets on board,” said du Marchie Sarvaas. “And the only way you’re going to get major markets on board is if you get some sort of political deal. And that comes to the trade point and the export point.””
“It’s also a geopolitical coordination challenge, a classic game theory problem where no major poultry-producing country wants to be the first to vaccinate. As a result, everyone sticks with the kill ’em all approach.”
“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.”
“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. “
“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.”
“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.”