Who should pay for inflation?

Worker in an Amazon fulfilment centre (AP Photo/David McNew)
Worker in an Amazon fulfilment centre (AP Photo/David McNew)

by Jeff Klein

Originally published in the Dorchester Reporter

The hard-working people of Massachusetts don’t have to be reminded about the pain of inflation. A trip to the supermarket demonstrates the sharply rising price of food, which is forcing most of us to tighten belts and even change our eating habits. Rents in Boston have also soared, as have the cost of many other daily necessities.

The latest blow is the recent announcement that gas and electricity prices are expected to rise sharply just as the winter heating season begins. Families already suffering from the increasing cost of living will face more pain when they struggle to pay their utility bills.

But news reports leave out crucial information about the causes and the cure for the surge in prices.

Starting with energy, the rising costs are blamed on the war in Ukraine. But the reality is that the US is wholly self-sufficient in oil and gas. In fact, our country is a net exporter natural gas and oil. In theory, we should be insulated from the rising cost of energy, unlike Europeans whose self-defeating boycott of Russian gas is leading to sky-high spikes in the cost fuel and electricity. When US utilities take advantage of this to raise their prices without any justification from increased costs, the reason is because they can. This is nothing more than corporate greed and monopoly price gauging.

What is the cure for inflation and who should pay the price? The unelected directors of the Federal Reserve bank have an answer: Working people should lose their jobs and pay more for mortgages. That is the intended effect of the recent announcements of sharp rises in interest.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell was frank in stating that “there will very likely be some softening of labor market conditions.” A recent commentary put that into plain English: “Here’s the idea behind why boosting the nation’s unemployment could cool inflation. With an additional million or two people out of work, the newly unemployed and their families would sharply cut back on spending, while for most people who are still working, wage growth would flatline”.

How can wages be the main driver of inflation when living costs have been increasing much faster than paychecks?

Of course, not everyone is suffering equally from inflation. Corporate profits and executive salaries are at record levels. Real estate listings show a staggering number of multi-million-dollar residences for sale in Boston, Cape Cod, and Rhode Island. Mega yachts are selling briskly. Massachusetts plutocrats are so flush with cash – and so determined to keep as much as possible – that they are donating millions to defeat the Fair Share Amendment (Question 1) on the November ballot so that they can avoid paying more taxes.

Working people should not have to bear the sole burden of inflation. In the long run, their best option is to join a union, which can negotiate pay raises and automatic cost-of-living increases. Against this right, corporate America has always mobilized all its wealth and power, including in elections, to make it harder for workers to organize.

Workers should begin to fight inflation by voting in their own interests and electing public officials who represent their interests, not those of the already wealthy. We are many, they are few.

Jeff Klein is a retired machinist and former local union president who lives in Dorchester.