The Subtle Pain of the American Middle Class

I think most Americans can sense that there is something wrong, particularly in economic affairs.  While high unemployment has certainly been a problem, even people with jobs are finding times to be tougher than normal.  This includes people who have been able to maintain their salary.

The Federal Reserve has been on a tear the last 5 years, more than quadrupling the adjusted monetary base.  But due to a lack of bank lending and a high demand for money (low velocity), consumer price inflation has stayed somewhat tame.

I think many libertarians, even followers of Austrian school economics, have been misled into thinking that the consequences of the Fed's loose monetary policy has to proliferate in the form of the boom/ bust cycle and high price inflation.  But as we have seen, there hasn't been really high price inflation yet.  It hasn't come close to reaching levels like Americans saw in the late 1970s.

However, this doesn't mean there aren't immediate consequences.  I think a much better measure is looking at wages as compared to the cost of living.  In many ways, Americans are richer than ever with smartphones and flat panel televisions.  But when it comes to basic needs such as food, medical care, education, and housing, times are tough.

I was just at the grocery store where I usually shop.  I typically eat one avocado per day (they are healthy).  The price used to be $1.50 per avocado.  There would occasionally be a sale for $1.00, but you can't stock up on too many avocados because they only last so long.  The price just went up.  They are now listed at $1.69 each.  These are non-organic from Mexico.  While a price hike of 19 cents doesn't seem like a lot, this is a 13% hike in the price.  Maybe there are supply and demand issues I am unaware of with avocados.  But I'm guessing the likely hidden culprit is monetary inflation.

This all adds up over time.  Even if the price goes up 13% every two years, this is still quite a big percentage increase, especially if you consider it happening with all food items that you purchase.  This would still be a yearly increase of over 6%.  I know most people are not getting raises anywhere close to 6%.  In today's economy, most people getting raises at all are lucky if it covers the increased premiums in their health insurance.

Our standard of living is getting better in terms of electronics.  It is actually shrinking if you measure it in terms of basic needs.  This is all happening subtly due to massive government spending and massive monetary inflation.  While consumer price inflation has not been nearly as bad as some predicted up to this point, it is still taking a toll.  If prices are going up faster than wages, then it means harder times for people.

That is why many libertarians refer to inflation as a hidden tax.  It really is hidden.  Most Americans are looking around, not understanding why they are struggling more than in the past.  This includes people with jobs.  This includes people who have gotten raises.

The problem is real wages.  If you are getting a 2% raise each year and your average expenses are going up 4% per year, then you have a major problem.  You are getting poorer.  And just as 2% growth really adds up in the longer term, a 2% decline each year will make you a lot poorer over the course of 5 years or more.

I don't think most Americans understand what has happened.  They know that times are tougher, but they aren't quite sure why.  They know that all is not good with the economy.  I can only hope that more and more people come to understand that the government and the Federal Reserve are continually making people poorer.