FOUR WAYS TO TACKLE INFLATION AND ITS HARMFUL EFFECTS

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

This post will summarize four ways to attack the current inflation and its harmful effects, as well as one traditional way of reducing inflation that will probably be counterproductive.

Because what we are experiencing is not traditional inflation, interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve are not likely to be effective in reducing inflation and may well do more harm than good. Typically, interest rate increases slow the economy and job growth, which increases unemployment and slows the rate of wage increases. In the current conditions, this would have little effect on inflation because it is not being driven by wage increases and labor costs, but rather by price gouging by monopolistic corporations, supply chain problems from the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. In this environment, slowing job and wage growth would increase economic hardship for workers and likely do them more harm than any good due that might come from decreased inflation.

There are other ways to more effectively address the harm that price increases are doing to household budgets. One way is to decrease household costs. The Biden Administration has proposed and taken a number of steps to do this. It is working to increase the supply of oil to put downward pressure on gasoline prices, but the big oil corporations are not cooperating. It is trying to reduce drug costs, but Congress is not cooperating. It is doing what it can to address supply chain problems and to reduce monopolistic power that lets companies increase prices unjustifiably, but these two tactics are not ones that will quickly produce benefits by reducing prices. (See this previous post for more detail on these efforts.)

A second way household budgets can be helped is by increasing incomes. An enhanced child tax credit and/or an expanded earned income tax credit would do this, but these have been blocked by Republicans in Congress with the complicity of a few corporate Democrats, most notably Senators Manchin and Sinema. An increase in the minimum wage would also be helpful but has not made progress in Congress.

Helping families pay the costs of child and elder care would have a three-fold benefit, but again, Congress, particularly the Senate, has not passed legislation to do this. Help with child care and elder care expenses would reduce costs for families, helping alleviate the hardship of increases in other prices. Increased affordability and access to child and elder care would allow parents and caregivers to increase their participation in the workforce, thereby increasing household income. Furthermore, this increase in workforce participation would expand the labor supply, reducing the upward pressure on labor costs of the currently tight labor market. This would reduce the albeit relatively small contribution of labor costs to inflation. [1]

A way to attack the “inflation” that is actually corporate price gouging would be to implement a  windfall profits tax. Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent of VT) has filed the Ending Corporate Greed Act, which would implement a 95% tax on the windfall profits of large corporations (those with more than $500 million in annual profits). The bill defines windfall or excess profits as profits in excess of a corporation’s average profits from 2015 through 2019, adjusted for inflation. (See these previous posts for examples of the extraordinary profits big corporations have been making recently:

The proposed tax closely parallels the World War II windfall profits tax. Windfall profits taxes were also implemented in the 1980s on oil and gas companies and during the Korean War and World War I. [2]

The goal of a windfall profits tax would be to get corporations to stop price gouging because their ability to inflate profits would be significantly reduced. However, if corporations continue to charge high prices and generate big profits, the tax revenue from the windfall profits tax could be used to provide assistance to working families facing economic hardship due to increased prices.

Price gouging can also be tackled directly. Senators Elizabeth Warren (Democrat from MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), along with Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), have introduced the Price Gouging Prevention Act of 2022. It would prohibit price gouging during market disruptions such as the current pandemic. It would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general to enforce a ban on excessive price increases. It would require public companies to report and explain price increases in their quarterly filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. [3]

I encourage to you contact President Biden and your Representative and Senators in Congress. Tell them you support a windfall profits tax, as well as other steps to combat price gouging, inflation, and the hardships they are causing.

You can email President Biden at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments or you can call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the switchboard at 202-456-1414.

You can find contact information for your U.S. Representative at  http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and for your U.S. Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

[1]      Bivens, J., 4/8/22, “Child care and elder care investments are a tool for reducing inflationary expectations without pain,” Economic Policy Institute (https://www.epi.org/blog/child-care-and-elder-care-investments-are-a-tool-for-reducing-inflationary-expectations-without-pain/)

[2]      Avi-Yonah, R., 4/18/22, “Time to tax excessive corporate profits,” The American Prospect (https://prospect.org/economy/time-to-tax-excessive-corporate-profits/)

[3]      Johnson, J., 5/12/22, “New Warren bill would empower feds to crack down on corporate price gouging,” Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/05/12/new-warren-bill-would-empower-feds-crack-down-corporate-price-gouging)

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