Last Friday, I went into town for gas. I saw a sticker depicting President Joe Biden pointing to the spot where the price per gallon is displayed. Biden is saying “I did that!” A recent ABC/Ipsos poll suggests that most Americans agree. According to the poll, Biden currently has a 27 percent approval rating on how he is dealing with gas prices. His score for handing inflation is as bad at 28 percent.
Let’s be honest. It is unfair to put the blame for high gasoline prices solely on Joe Biden and the Democrats. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including Russia, greedy oil company executives, Donald Trump, Congress, and the pandemic. And if we want to play the blame game, we need to add ourselves to the list. If we bought less gasoline, the price would go down.
For many of us, gasoline is the most irritating manifestation of inflation, but it is only part of a pattern of rising prices. Long-term inflation, leading to a recession, seems likely. Simply put, indications are increasing that trouble is heading our way.
Consider a few recent comments by business and government leaders. Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase predicts an “economic hurricane.” Elon Musk predicts a recession and tells us, in true Musk fashion, that it will be a good thing. “Bankruptcies need to happen,” he tells us, which is easy for him to say.
More worrisome is Treasury Secretary Yellen admitting that she was wrong in her projections about inflation. Yellen believed inflation would be modest. Reports suggest that she advised President Biden to pare down his domestic spending proposals but was overruled by other administration advisors.
Worse yet, we have Fed Chairman Jay Powell and others at the Federal Reserve uncertain of how inflation can be brought under control. Powell predicts “pain” and says several factors that might trigger a recession are beyond the Fed’s control. That is not comforting.
All this suggests that we are on the cusp of a recession. I see one coming but, I am frequently surprised by encountering people who continue to believe that things will be back to normal by the end of the year. Among their explanations are that the supply chain issues are “straightening out;” that the Fed’s “quantitative tightening” will work; and that the war in Ukraine will end soon because “Putin is running out of tanks.”
When I hear this type of garbage, I smile, nod my head, and walk away knowing that I have just wasted my time. But when I reflect on all the explanations being offered for inflation, most of them in the form of blame, I realize that nobody has a handle on inflation.
If the Biden administration, the Fed, or anyone else manages to tame inflation, a modicum of luck will be involved. This is not to say that there aren’t things that can and should be done now. The Federal Reserve is doing the right thing to implement quantitative tightening. Republicans are doing the right thing to oppose massive new federal spending. Economists are right to suggest that too many people continue to voluntarily remain unemployed or underemployed.
Unfortunately, if new investments in infrastructure, education, healthcare, the military, and science are deferred, we all pay the price eventually. The pressing social needs that gave rise to last summer’s urban turmoil have not yet been met. More unrest is likely if it becomes clear that progress is being abandoned in the name of curing inflation.
What does all this mean for the 2022 midterm elections? Unfortunately, if the polls are right, people will blame Biden and Democrats for inflation and will punish them by voting for Republicans. That will further polarize politics, especially if people like Mehmet Oz, J.D. Vance, and Herschel Walker are sent to D.C.
I fear that if Republicans win in November, their focus will not be on taming inflation. It will be on impeaching Joe Biden, enacting tax cuts, and pursuing nonsense like “banning” Critical Race Theory and blocking needed election reform laws to increase their odds of winning the presidency in 2024.
This means that in addition to the obvious pain of inflation, we may face other types of pain as the polarization of America continues. All this means it is important to avoid the blame game when talking about inflation. Instead of finding someone to blame, let’s work together to find impactful solutions.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.