No subject inflames political passions more than the powerful inflationary pressures that now squeeze every working family — and nobody likes to talk about inflation more than Republicans, who have reason to believe that rising prices will lift their political boats next November. Polls show that Americans furious over the costs of gasoline, food, housing and nearly everything else blame President Joe Biden, just as Republican leaders insist they should.
When playing this blame game, the Republicans like to keep things simple. The price hikes must be Biden's fault, because he is president while they are going up. And the way to bring them down is to elect congressional Republicans in 2022 and a Republican president, perhaps Donald Trump again, in 2024.
The problem with this simple-minded approach is that, like most economic analysis focused on a snapshot, it eliminates all the important facts and context. It is like saying that the COVID-19 pandemic — not the response, but the contagion itself — was Trump's fault because he was president when it occurred.
According to the Republicans, inflation's principal cause was Biden's spending on the American Rescue Plan, which pumped too much liquidity into the economy at a moment when production could not keep up. Fewer goods chased by more money inevitably made prices rise. But if that's true, then those same Republicans must explain why prices have risen at nearly the same rate across the developed world — and much more rapidly in some countries.
Across Europe, the current year-on-year inflation rate is 7.5 percent, or roughly one percent lower than in the United States, which clearly has nothing to do with Biden or his spending policies. The main causes behind this round of global inflation are the supply-chain disruptions caused by the global pandemic, which are affecting every country, and the Russian war against Ukraine.
Would we be happier if we were living with Europe's inflation rate? Not much — and we would be coping with much higher unemployment. Whatever else is said about the Biden economic plan, he has succeeded in driving unemployment down to the lowest level in 50 years, at roughly 3.6 percent. That is a historic jobs boom, resulting in higher wages for the lowest-paid workers in our economy.
Meanwhile, unemployment across the European Union is now around 6.2 percent. Higher prices harm working families, but buying the necessities is far more challenging when the family's breadwinners are out of work.
So perhaps one percent or a little more of the present inflation rate can be attributed plausibly to the American Rescue Plan. But that spending did nothing to raise gas or food prices, both vulnerable to the effects of pandemic and war. And when Republicans complain about the inflationary impact of Biden's economic program, someone should ask what they plan to do about the problem if and when they regain power. They appear to have no answer.
In fact, Sean Hannity, Trump's favorite Fox News host, had the temerity to pose that question to the former president last week. "If you're president, what would you do?" asked Hannity, after framing his query with a damning denunciation of Biden and the economy.
"So what you're saying sounds all very easy and sounds very simple, not actually that simple," Trump began, careening into a long, indeed very long reply that was full of self-praise but empty of an actual answer to his fanboy's question. Because he has no answer.
Now, Trump rarely offers any coherent response on policy issues, which is one of the reasons that he abolished the Republican platform altogether in 2020. What about his fellow partisans on Capitol Hill, whose midterm campaign rides on voter anger over inflation? Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently released an 11-point program that mostly consists of hollow culture war rhetoric rather than concrete proposals. (One of his brilliant ideas is to complete the border-wall boondoggle, at enormous cost, and name it after Trump.)
Scott has no answer to inflation — which his program doesn't even mention — but he does want to raise tax rates for working families that earn too little to pay federal income taxes now. And then there's Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, another leading Republican voice, who recently clogged up border crossings with a "truck inspection" stunt. He wanted to make a point about immigration, but only succeeded in driving up the price of food imported from Mexico and harming industries in his own state.
No, the Republicans only have one idea: Scream about Joe Biden, and hope voters don't realize they have no plan and no clue until after Election Day.
To find out more about Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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