What would we do if we had REAL inflation?

Yeah, I know we have real inflation now. Of course, unless the economy has come to a halt and is in danger of sliding into deflation, like during the Depression, we always have inflation. It’s just it’s somewhat higher right now. Now, it’s more like what we lived with in the early ’80s. It feels familiar, unless you’re very young.

Oh, and before you think I’m shrugging it off, not only the young are feeling the pinch. My wife, who is the one in the family who has to make our modest income stretch to feed and house us (this is not a task you would want to assign to me), reminds me of it frequently. She did so multiple times when we were shopping together yesterday, and that was at Walmart. She normally shops at Aldi.

But what I mean is, what if we really had the kind of inflation — commonly called “hyperinflation” — that really shows your country is messed up and falling apart? You know, the kind that means your whole system, or your leadership, needs to be replaced? I mean, the kind that you’d think we were having now, if you listened to Republican politicians. And for that matter, some Democrats.

Including some Democrats I really like, such as Abigail Spanberger, who’s in a tough race for reelection to her congressional seat up in Virginia. There was an update on that race on the front page of The Boston Globe today (see above), and it said in part:

Spanberger and her Republican opponent, Yesli Vega agreed that inflation is the most pressing issue for voters.

“We’re facing a time when people have to decide whether they’re going to pump gas or buy groceries,” said Vega, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a former law enforcement officer who still serves as an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. “I do believe that we’re in the condition we are right now because of President Biden’s failed policies and representatives like Abigail Spanberger enabling him every step of the way.”…

“I have certainly found that people want to talk about gas prices, they want to talk about grocery prices, they want to talk about the challenges they’re facing,” Spanberger said after a recent Fredericksburg event highlighting the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year that she supported.

“I’m acknowledging the problem and trying to fix it,” she said. “Your other option is somebody who’s just trying to cast blame for the problem.”…

Anyway, I look at this situation in which polls keep showing that voters care more about inflation than anything — as this story states, “ahead of abortion rights, an increase in violent crime during the pandemic, a war in Europe, and attacks on voting rights.” And, presumably, global climate change.

The worst problem in the world? Presumably, you don’t think that if you live, say, in Ukraine. But America is apparently full of people who, at this moment at least, think 8.5 percent inflation is our biggest problem.

They might have had a point, if they were living in the Weimar Republic 100 years ago.

I met a guy named John Toland in 1976. I gave him a ride from the airport to the book festival that had brought him to Memphis. I wasn’t really there to talk to him. I wanted to talk to Mary Hemingway about her new book, being a huge fan of her late husband. The publicists set me up to have lunch with her, but asked me to pick up Toland, who had just come out with a weighty tome about Hitler. I hadn’t read his book, wasn’t planning to read his book, but I gave him a ride, and enjoyed chatting with him.

Years later, I finally read the book, and it left an impression. (I recommend it.) Burned into my memory in particular is an anecdote it related about the night of the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler and a couple of his boys were hanging out in the beer hall, waiting for the time to make their move. They decided they would blend a bit better if they all were holding beers. So one of his boys went and bought three brews.

They cost three billion marks.

Not having the book at hand — I’m not sure where it is now — I looked up  “Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic” in Wikipedia. It stated in part:

A loaf of bread in Berlin that cost around 160 Marks at the end of 1922 cost 200,000,000,000 Marks by late 1923.[14]

By November 1923, one US dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks.[16]

The line about the cost of bread reminded me of another anecdote I read somewhere years ago. I can’t remember whether it was in Toland’s book or somewhere else. Anyway, a woman was on the way to buy a loaf of bread. She had a laundry basket overflowing with paper money to pay for it. Some emergency came up, and she had to put down the basket and go deal with it.

When she came back, someone had dumped out the money and stolen her basket.

Now that’s inflation.

But you don’t have to go back to Weimar to find examples of serious, profound inflation problems. As I’ve often mentioned, I lived in Ecuador when I was a kid. I lived there longer than I lived anywhere growing up — two years, four-and-a-half months. I’ve never been back there since leaving in 1965. But I became aware of the fact that at some point, the currency that we used there in my day — the Sucre — had been ditched, and the U.S. dollar adopted in its place.

One day, I decided to look that up — also on Wikipedia. In my day in Guayaquil, a Sucre was worth a nickel — it took 20 to make a dollar. I didn’t realize it had been declining in value for years. In 1946, it had taken only 13 to make a dollar. After I left, things sped up. In 1970, the dollar was worth 25 Sucres. In 1983, it took 42. In 1990, it was 800 Sucres, and it plunged to 3,000 in 1995.

Just before the switch to the dollar standard in 2000, you needed 25,000 Sucres to buy what the dollar would buy.

That, too, is real inflation, even if not quite on the billion-for-a-cerveza level. I can see how someone living under those conditions might see it as the biggest problem of the moment.

But 8.5 percent? You’d think a country that saw that as its biggest problem didn’t have any real problems.

And yet, we do — and inflation is one of those problems, although not the worst. For the first time in my life, the first time in our 246 year history, our republic is in profound danger. It could really, truly be falling apart. Look at the number of people who are outraged — our senior senator suggests we’re on the verge of riots in the street (again) — that the government thought it out to go take back those classified documents you-know-who stole and hid in his place down in Florida.

Also, many of the same people, and others, think — and I’m using the word “think” very loosely here — that we ought to turn fine people like Rep. Spanberger out of office over something that is in no rational way her fault — inflation. Note the comments in that Globe story from guy who voted for Biden in 2020, but says maybe he’d vote for Trump next time, “because in Donald Trump’s time, we didn’t have these issues.” (How’s that for steel-trap, cause-and-effect logic? As we all know, the condition of the U.S. economy depends entirely on who happens to be in the White House, right?)

These are serious problems, and considerably more disturbing than this other actual, but more transitory, problem, inflation.

Remember, Germany came up with a “solution” to their Weimar problems.

That solution was Hitler…

Adolf and his posse sitting in prison after the Putsch, all hoping someone else offers to buy the next round of beers.

12 thoughts on “What would we do if we had REAL inflation?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and before someone responds by yelling, “HOW THE HELL CAN YOU THINK INFLATION ISN’T A SERIOUS PROBLEM, YOU IDIOT?,” let me try once more to explain to you what I’m saying here.

    This post is about perspective. The thing that made me write it was the reporting that polls say inflation is so bad that’s it’s the worst problem facing us.

    Which seems a bit out of whack. Fifth-worst problem, maybe. I could even see people listing it as the second or third, if they’d just come from the supermarket.

    But worst?

    1. Bart

      I talk to people almost every day and for the most part, they are convinced the country is in a recession or on the threshold of one. Most are cutting back on discretionary spending and concentrating on essentials and daily needs. They are looking at their 401k shrinking before their eyes and acknowledging they cannot do anything about the losses. Most are tapping into their checking and saving accounts they were able to build during the pandemic shutdowns.

      The realtors I talk to are already aware of the pending slowdown in home purchases and new construction that was not secured before the Feds started raising rates. Existing home sales and purchases have slowed down due to the adjustment in home values and the once hot market has cooled. One medical supply representative is steadily losing customers due to their change in purchasing procedures. The clinics and hospitals still need the supplies, but their approach has changed more to in-house than supply representatives.

      Personally, my budget has been totally revised and any non-essential cut from it. I am also fortunate to be able to utilize my SS along with other income streams and still live comfortably although much more modest than a couple of years ago.

      If anyone on the blog is not affected by the current inflation, then you are blessed and fortunate. For those who are using the savings from the pandemic years and/or using credit cards to keep up, they are the ones who will be most affected if conditions continue to deteriorate.

      Below is a link to a good article that goes into a good explanation and potential outcome from the current economic situation affecting incomes now and in an uncertain future.


  2. Barry

    I get tired of this issue.

    No president, including Trump – would have avoided inflation. I have to wonder if these folks paid any attention in 2020 when people were predicting inflation would likely result from the lockdowns and the economy shutting down and the massive spending that that Trump and Biden approved.

    I think the answer is obvious: No, they paid no attention.

    It’s easier just to blame the person in office now.

    Yes, inflated prices stink – and it’s not much fun- but it was going to happen no matter what politician folks elected.

    and of course Republicans are not talking about what they’d do about inflation. No specific policy proposals- just complaining and whining- like politicians do.

    In August 2020, I ordered engine part for a boat. Trump was in office. The supply chain was screwed up and I waited for the part until 3 days after Christmas 2020 when the dealership called me and said it had arrived. When I put a deposit down on the part, the salesman said it would be months before it came in because they had all sorts of backorders. He was right. It was months. The part also increased in price. Thankfully, I didn’t have to pay that because I had ordered it and put a deposit down and my dealer locked in the price for me. But as he showed me on the invoice, the price had went up about 25% for other customers who had no ordered when I did.

    There was no Republican policy that would have stopped that. No Democrat policy either.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      True. Although, not being a post-1970s Republican, I would have said “Democratic policy” instead of “Democrat policy.” 🙂

      I’ve always been sort of a fan of executive power, and conscious at the same time that we have three branches of government, and they either are or need to be co-equal, and that, to play with the Mel Brooks line, it’s good not to have a king.

      But perhaps because I live in South Carolina, where the executive has always been kept powerless in relation to the executive, I’ve tended to push for more executive power — and a clear line of executive accountability. At the same time, I’m mindful of those who warn of the dangers of an “imperial presidency” on the national level. I don’t always agree with them, but I do agree that executive power should not grow disproportionate to the other branches.

      All of that said, I’m quite aware of the limitations on executive power. Or at least, the historical limitations. I do worry that Congress has become so profoundly dysfunctional that it allows more room for improper executive actions — which is yet another reason why it’s profoundly dangerous to have a malevolent ignoramus in the White House, and am very glad that we no longer do. At the moment.

      Still… I don’t exaggerate what a president can do. And I don’t make the mistake of thinking that everything in the world that happens is to the credit, or blame, of the individual behind the Resolute Desk.

      I give the president credit, or blame, for specific actions or inaction. For signing or vetoing a bill. For successfully persuading Congress to go along with a particular initiative.

      I do not ascribe to him the ability to singlehandedly reshape the economy so that consumer prices go up or down. Not normally, anyway. I think maybe FDR did eventually help make the Depression lift by all those bold and and aggressive policies he pushed through in the early part of his four terms in office. But I also see reason in the argument that it wasn’t him, but the war. I don’t know. And I’m not sure how I ever could know.

      An awful lot of folks seem to think they know, and what they “know” is a startling thing — a matter of magical powers, wielded with the ease of a magic wand.

      And so many of them never seem to doubt it for a moment…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        To the extent that there IS a danger of an “imperial presidency,” it results from the lazy American habit of oversimplification. People want to believe that the president has great power, and to some extent that gives him great power, sometimes. Too often, we don’t consider the complexities. Journalists by and large don’t consider them, either, content to keep telling a story of ones and zeroes, the eternal battle between this party and that party, with no room in their accounts for ways of looking at things beyond those two contestants.

        And our ability to consider and understand what it really happening degenerates, to where we fail to live up to the responsibilities of an informed electorate…

  3. Doug Ross

    8% inflation means prices double in 9 years. If you think that’s no big deal, I hope you have a couple million in savings to burn in the next decade.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, Doug, I think what I wrote.

      If there’s one thing I’d change about my blog if I had a magic wand with such powers, it would be to get people to stop saying I said something other than what I said, and then arguing with the stuff they made up.

      I took 1,300 words to express what I was saying. You know why? Because I wasn’t saying something simple, something that could be expressed on a bumper sticker. If I were running for office, like Abigail Spanberger, I couldn’t expand and explain. That’s because she has to deal with voters, and voters don’t think about things such as this; they feel. So since they feel that inflation is the worst thing in the world, she has to avoid disagreeing with them.

      I don’t. I’m not running for office, and I have a blog, which allows unlimited room to explain. (The only limitation is finding the time.) What that means to me is that I should use the platform to go beyond the simple things that politicians are forced to say — or if not to say, at least not to contradict.

      But let me try to put it in very few words — a little more than a bumper sticker, but as few as possible”

      Inflation is a real problem. We need it to be lower, say 2 percent or so. But is it the worst thing in the world?

      Oh, and please don’t change “the worst thing in the world” to “a big deal” so you can argue with it. I didn’t say that, because I didn’t mean that. Something can be a big deal, and be very, very far from “the worst thing in the world.” Thousands of things could rank ahead of “a big deal.”

      So is it clear to you now?

  4. Barry

    A few other observations – and one Brad will really like (I think)

    1) The “Lock Her Up” crowd has no issue with Donald Trump having classified documents at his home. They only had a problem with Hillary Clinton doing it. I don’t think anyone is surprised by that hypocrisy.

    2) Dan Abrams (He’s a lawyer) pointed this out on his Sirius radio show Wednesday when he went through the Trump legal team’s filing very slowly- sentence by sentence. Trump has been on social media whining about how he declassified all the documents at his home. HIs attorneys have NOT CLAIMED that in their legal filings. They’ve essentially said the opposite. Dan pointed out numerous instances of Trump claiming things that his own attorneys have never claimed. (He thinks Trump is simply lying to his own supporters – who are the only people on earth that believe him). Dan made no predictions about how this would turn out.

    3) I thought Brad would like this – my favorite broadcaster- Michael Smerconish of Sirius Radio (and a Saturday morning show on CNN) is having an “UnConvention” on October 7th in Philadelphia. Michael is partnering with his friend Steve Scully (Steve also has a show on the POTUS channel on Sirius) and the Bi-Partisan Policy Center.

    Here is the announcement: (and anyone can attend by registering- admission is $20.22)

    On Friday, October 7, Smerconish.com is teaming up with the Bipartisan Policy Center and Unite America to bridge the partisan divide with the inaugural Un-Convention: an exploration of political reforms to improve our election systems and policy ideas to govern a divided country

    Keynote Remarks by Admiral James G. Stavridis,

    “Join us in a day-long series of open and honest discussions with leading public officials, subject matter experts, civic and community leaders, and concerned citizens from across the political spectrum.”

    Civic Society and Pathways to A More Civil Discourse
    Securing Our Elections and Making Our Politics Work for Us
    Crafting a Bipartisan Policy Agenda
    The Media’s Role in Our Politics

    Additional participants to be announced

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s very exciting to see the UnParty having a convention!

      But I want to make it very clear that I am NOT seeking the nomination.

      Not that I necessarily have a say in the matter. James Garfield did everything he could think of to keep them from nominating him in 1880, and how did that work out? They nominated him unanimously, he was elected, and then he was murdered — by the idiot doctors who gave him a deadly infection after his idiot assassin gave him a non-lethal wound.

      I’ve got Garfield on the mind right now because I’m reading Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. It’s really good, and I highly recommend it. But now I’m at the point where he’s been shot, and the doctors have already done unspeakably stupid things to him immediately after the shooting, and I don’t know if I can keep reading….

      1. Barry

        In fairness, Michael said they are not starting a 3rd party. He feels that would be a distraction and isn’t his goal.

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