A friend of mine this week posted something in one of my many (I really need to weed and concentrate on paying writing) chat channels. It was “As Sarah has warned us we’re all becoming poorer.”
I confess that as with most things that go “As Sarah said” I don’t remember giving that warning.
And you know and I know that the economists have pointed out in the end inflation is a theft from the middle class, but it’s hard to explain the mechanism. I mean, no one is coming to my house and taking away things that are now more expensive, right?
Ah, but in a way they are. Worse, they’re taking away things from the nation, that we’re used to and have always had.
Before I get to what occasioned my friend’s comment, let me explain how rich America was (and still is in many ways.)
When I came here I had no illusions about everyone being millionaires or the streets being paved with gold, thought that is still the belief of many foreigners. I’d been an exchange student here at the end of Jimmah’s misrule, and I knew how tough it was for my middle-class host parents. (I don’t think we went out to eat the entire time. Not even for fast food. As an example. Mom and dad were house rich and cash poor.)
However, I knew it was a country of strange and unstinting abundance.
What do I mean? Well… Your cheaper hotels were at the same level as the most expensive ones in Portugal for comfort and prompt service.
You had all you can eat buffets. All you can eat! whoever heard of that? Your thrift shops overflowed, not with the tattered and torn, but with last year’s fashions, last year’s electronics. Your public areas, and even your grocery stores had bathrooms and water fountains. Everything was large, easy, comfortable.
In that sense America didn’t disappoint me. It largely still doesn’t, not compared to most places. The free market makes you be kind to customers and attract them to your area, while in socialism everyone who comes to your store is another drain. (Same as health care.)
When Dan and I got pneumonia in Portugal in 88, even though because of family and connections we got the best health care available, my SIL — an MD — advised us to more our return forward, so we could maybe survive the pneumonia (yes, it was that bad.) So we flew back to Charlotte NC and — because we had no insurance — we went to a doc in a box. Who prescribed anti-biotics that saw us right within another week. This was literally unobtanium in Portugal at the time. We could get it, but it would take a month and by then….
Abundance. Our poor live better than the middle-class in Europe not just because our houses are better built and have heating and cooling and there are a million food-assistance programs (when the kids were teens under Obama we signed up for a non-means-testing one via the church which allowed us to buy all our groceries for $80 a month, save for cleaners and cat stuff. We were thanked for signing up, because the more people in it, the cheaper they could make the bulk-purchased food. (We dropped out of that ONLY because we had to go low carb for health reasons. A lot of the food was pre-prepared and super convenient, but carb-laden.)
At our poorest, we would get A hotel room for the weekend in Denver, and take a vacation with the kids, in comfort for about $500 total in today’s dollars. (When it started, it was around $200 on the budget.)
You see, embassy suites, which catered to business travelers, had super-cheap prices on the weekend. At least some weekends, and I checked the next weekend pretty much every week. And it had two rooms. The kids could sleep on the sofa, so it wasn’t crowded. And they had FREE BREAKFAST. Who’s heard of that? With real cooked-to-order stuff, not just some rolls and butter? Abroad? very few people. And those well off.
So we would take the kids down for breakfast at ten (look we had no television at home, so they loved the morning cartoons.) and then hit the town. Pre-paid memberships to museums and zoo. Free tours of mines and factories. About the most expensive thing we did was the amusement park, which was $5 entry and $11 for all rides. (Doubled by the time we stopped going, seven years ago, but still.) Dan and I didn’t even get the full rides. We got maybe $5 extra between us, but the kids got ALL the rides. Sure, it was the off-brand park, with the older rides and where most people spoke Spanish. So? It was fun. Abundance.
So, how is all that imperiled by inflation?
I’m glad you asked!
We get back to what my friend reported: she recently traveled and the hotel rooms were…. slightly less clean. There were obvious repairs in the shower. The staff was fewer people, and less attentive.
I’ve been experiencing this too. Places are getting dingier. Linens will look worn. Furniture slightly battered.
I also experienced buying a house in “flyover country” and were shocked. The one we bought still needs repair and we’re getting to it a little at a time, but–
We looked in smaller and more remote places. You know, those that were hit by the Chinification. Factories closed. People were left unemployed. People moved away. And the people left behind had no money for house maintenance, let alone improvement. I am cursed with being the granddaughter of carpenters.
Granite counters and nice walkin showers are good to have, and yes, we plan to put them here in a few years, but those won’t be needed to buy a house.
It’s more that the bad roofs, the flooded basements “oh, it’s nothing. It’s dry most of the time”, the basement ceiling held up with an old board that’s half bent…..
The prices were great. Some places were beautiful. I loved the small towns. But I’d have to build the house back form ground up, and I’m too old for that.
That it was universal means those people weren’t slobs or neglecting issues on purpose. They were TIGHT. When you’re tight you do the barely necessary.
Right now, businesses are tight. So, you hire fewer servers, you hire cheaper personnel. You don’t clean hotel rooms every day, and your personnel is on a schedule that means cleaning standards would horrify them even three years ago.
And at home? Well. You don’t eat as well. You don’t repair things that need it on time, and therefore end up needing bigger repairs later. You drive the car into the ground. (To be fair, we always did. Buy used and drive for ten to twenty years.) You don’t buy that zoo membership, and anyway, the zoo is looking unkempt, and why don’t they have as many animals? You go out less partly because you don’t have the money, partly because your favorite place went out and it’s not as much fun anymore.
You don’t replace clothes as often. You don’t replace tech as often. The thrift stores get far worse stuff.
We all get poorer.
Inflation and energy are a noose continuously tightening around everyone’s neck.
And the dastards in power will tell you it’s the companies getting stingier, the oil merchants making “bigger profits” (even for them transport costs more, but it’s also taking some money now because they know it’s going to crash.)
It’s not true. By printing money the government has their hand in your pocket. In everyone’s pocket. Everyone gets poorer. Except the very rich who are never touched by this.
Tell that to everyone you can reach. Immiseration is nasty and subtle. And these thieves need to be necklaced with it.