“U.S. food prices are on the rise, raising a sensitive question: When the cost of a hamburger patty soars, does it count as inflation?” — Ben Leubsdorf and Jon Kilsenrath
The sentence above opens a recent article in The Wall Street Journal and illuminates one of the most despicable practices of our government: not counting food prices when calculating the rate of inflation. Imagine not counting rainfall when supposedly measuring rainfall.
I have avoided listening to audio of Janet Yellen, the new chair of the Federal Reserve, because the articles wherein she is quoted make her sound like a dupe of epic proportions, and listening to dupes is one of my least favorite activities. In the Wall Street Journal article of which I speak, she is quoted as saying she is not certain that food prices are relevant to discussions of inflation.
How can anyone, let alone the person in charge of national fiscal policy, not be certain if food prices are relevant to inflation? What do Americans spend most of their money on? Food and shelter last time I checked, and driving to and from shelter to work to get money for food, and driving to and from shelter to grocery store to buy that food. Claude Levi Strauss, the famous anthropologist, said that 98% of all human activity is related to growing, gathering, preparing and eating food. Without sufficient food, we perish. And food prices have been skyrocketing for the last several years, which is the only inflation of any relevance to most people on earth.
You will recall the famous Arab Spring of the recent past. The same nincompoops who neglect to include the rising cost of food in discussions of inflation also rhapsodized about the Arab Spring being caused by the people of Tunisia and Libya and Egypt yearning for democracy, when the actual cause of those uprisings was desperation over the meteoric rise in food prices and the inability of many people in those countries to afford bread.
Our government also just released figures showing that national unemployment has dropped to 6.1%. Who do they think they’re kidding? Or put another way: what is the purpose of such blatant falsity? We know that a pack of power hungry sociopaths fabricated a story about weapons of mass destruction to justify going to war, but what purpose is served by cooking the books about inflation and unemployment? Answer #1: Increases in Social Security payments are determined by the rate of inflation. If the government lies and declares the rate of inflation 1%, that is how much they will increase Social Security payments, which is what the government has been doing for the last several years. Answer #2: Jiggle unemployment rates downward and the stock market goes up. Steal from the poor and give to the rich.
“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” — Woody Allen
I was not particularly conscious of food prices when I was a child because my mother did the food buying, though I do remember that for most of my childhood Mom would not buy watermelon until the price dropped below ten cents a pound. At the height of summer, watermelon sold for three cents a pound. Yes, a big juicy delicious twenty-pound watermelon in Menlo Park California circa 1955-1960 cost sixty cents, those fabulous melons grown just down the road in Gilroy.
When I began supporting myself in my late teens, I became keenly aware of food prices and remain so to this day. I also have a quasi-photographic memory and know immediately when food prices go up or down. Fruit and vegetable prices fluctuate seasonally, of course, but overall fruit and vegetable prices are more than twice what they were eight years ago. A good price for organically grown apples during apple season eight years ago was sixty-nine cents a pound. A great price during apple season this past year for organically grown apples was a dollar and eighty-nine cents per pound. Right now apples are going for four dollars a pound. Maybe Janet Yellen doesn’t eat apples.
Remember when broccoli was nineteen cents a pound? That means you are over fifty. Remember when you could get two See’s Candy suckers for a nickel? That means you are over sixty.
“There are only two families in the world, my old grandmother used to say, the Haves and the Have-nots.” — Miguel de Cervantes
In the summer of 1969 I was driving through the hills of West Virginia in an old GMC panel truck, heading I knew not where and needing a place to camp and something to eat, my cash reserves low. As I slowed on a hairpin turn I saw a crude sign at the bottom of a dirt drive that said Chikens 4 Sale. I shifted into first gear and climbed the deeply rutted track to a decrepit cottage, the roof caving in, every last living and dead thing in sight coated with dust.
A little barefoot boy wearing hand-me-down rags stood in front of the hovel glaring at my truck. As I shut off the engine and the trailing cloud of dust engulfed the house, two younger children stepped out onto the collapsing porch and glared at me, too. Then their mother appeared, a pregnant young gal with long brown hair, a shotgun cradled in her arms.
She squinted at my truck and shouted, “He’s not here. Don’t know when he’s coming back.”
I climbed out and said, “Saw the sign for chickens for sale. I’d like to buy one for supper.”
The woman nodded. “Theys a quarter each if you take’em live. Thirty cents if I got to kill and gut and pluck.”
“Great. I’ll take one killed and gutted and plucked.”
She stepped back into the house and I foolishly expected her to return with a pre-prepared chicken from her refrigerator. She did not, however, have a refrigerator or electricity. She emerged a moment later without her gun and led me to a squalid pen surrounded by rusting chicken wire.
Pointing at the dozen or so raggedy chickens pecking at the barren ground she said, “Which one you want?”
I pointed at one that looked fairly healthy. “How about that big brown one?”
“Okay,” she said, opening the rickety gate—and in a flash she snatched up that bird and broke its neck as easily as snapping a dry twig.
(Todd Walton’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com)