Rube Goldberg himself couldn’t have dreamed up a more fantastical diagram for obscuring a straightforward economic power grab.
It seems like the price of everything from used cars to ground beef is up these days, and right-wing politicos 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 were in charge?
Just look back to 1974, when families were pummeled by a one-two punch of raging inflation and crushing joblessness. Price spikes then topped 12%, nearly double what we’re enduring today — and President Gerald Ford and his Republican contingent in Congress met the challenge head on with a new program of economic uplift: “WIN”! But, in fact, “Whip Inflation Now” was just a political slogan and a magic button with no magic and no action behind it. Price controls? Jawboning? Antitrust action? No, no, that would’ve been so FDR/HST/LBJ-ish, and GOP, Inc., didn’t want to offend, much less punish, corporate titans for a little profiteering.
Ford went on national TV to sell WIN. “I pledge to my follow citizens,” he solemnly intoned, “that I will buy, when possible, only those products and services priced at or below present levels.” The core of the Republican “program,” then, was telling hard-hit wage earners to battle the monopolistic behemoths of Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Food, et al., on their own by simply refusing to pay inflated prices for the gasoline, medicines, groceries and such that — hellllooooo — they had to have.
In exchange for that economic gut punch, everyone who signed a form promising Gerry Ford they would be an “Inflation Fighter” received a nifty WIN button, indicating their patriotic participation. Sure enough, Americans responded enthusiastically — with an avalanche of ridicule. Even Ford’s own top economic adviser, Alan Greenspan, who was in a White House meeting when the WIN initiative was first revealed to senior advisers, joined the skeptics: “It was surreal. …I said to myself. ‘This is unbelievable stupidity. What am I doing here?'”
So, here we are 48 years later, caught in another fog of inflationary surrealism, with Republican leaders (abetted by a couple of Democratic senatorial flakes) doubling down on unbelievable stupidity. But this time we don’t even get a button. What we are getting is a pot of warmed-over right-wing political mush boiled down to a talking point: “It’s Biden’s fault.”
Last July, several GOP senators combined their 5-watt intellects to charge that inflation was rising because of the “insane tax and spending spree of President Biden and the Democrats.” Never mind that the “insane” spending was for such sensible and enormously popular national needs as child care and jobless benefits; Sen. Mitch McConnell’s rabidly partisan flock saw the chance to weaponize the public’s legitimate worries about rising prices. “You poor consumers,” they wailed, “are being made to pay more for basics like groceries and gasoline because of ‘Socialist Joe’s’ investments in grassroots people.”
Follow the ricocheting pinball of the GOPs logic:
No. 1: They say that helping hard-hit families induces them to refuse to go to work; No. 2: this creates blockages in the global supply chain; No. 3: this causes shortages of everything; No. 4: this “forces” corporate bosses to raise all prices; which, No. 5: slams the middle class and poor; so, No. 6: lazy workers cause inflation.
Whew! Rube Goldberg couldn’t have dreamed up a more fantastical diagram for obscuring a straightforward economic power grab. In reality, America’s inflation problem is actually a corporate greed problem.
Of course, the greedmeisters and their apologists are deeply offended by this charge, huffing that their pursuit of corporate profit has not driven any price surges. In our economy of free market competition, they snap, consumer prices are established by the Holy Law of Supply and Demand. They lecture that when shortages occur, prices naturally rise, and that incentivizes additional production, which magically establishes a new supply/demand balance. Even if one producer or a monopolistic cabal of producers tries to overcharge consumers, these theoretical new competitors will draw customers from the gougers and keep prices in check. In the sanctuary of this concept, the free market is a virtuous, self-regulating circle of competitive fairness.
But there’s one big problem with their virtuous circle: It’s a fraud that implodes when it hits the hard reality that our economy doesn’t remotely resemble a competitive marketplace. Nearly every economic sector in the U.S. (from high tech to farm and food) has been locked down by a handful of overpowering corporate giants. For some 40 years, corporate-directed government policies have intentionally promoted (even subsidized) megamergers; gleefully greenlighted anticompetitive business tactics; and aggressively inculcated and celebrated the economic lie that bigger is better. Thus, in short order and with practically no public awareness, much less discussion, America has been transformed into Monopoly Nation.