Boiling Middle America Slowly


The Associated Press begins a story about the rising cost of basic necessities as follows:

“Wholesale prices jumped last month by the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame.”

Whew!  Glad inflation is tame!  It would be awful if we had to deal with rising costs for essential goods… oh, wait.  That is what’s happening.  The Consumer Price Index, which is used to calculate inflation, does not include food prices.  That’s why we’ve got surging prices at the grocery store coupled with “tame” inflation.

We’ve just seen the steepest increase in food prices in the last 36 years, along with (and partially caused by) exploding gasoline prices.  Couple that with a dismal housing market which features a 22 percent drop in new home construction from last month, and persistently high unemployment, and you’ve got a very gloomy picture for middle and lower class Americans.

How did we come to this?  Some of it is driven by recent events, such as unrest in the Middle East, but a great deal of our situation is the result of policies that have been in place for years.  Our refusal to exploit our own oil resources is an economic suicide that has been years in the making.  The housing market has never recovered from the Fannie Mae crisis arranged by the Democrat Party, a catastrophe they can’t wait to repeat.  Unemployment went through the roof after years of determined government efforts to salt the earth against small business formation.  Inflation won’t remain “tame” for much longer, as a government that refuses to cut spending will lose its feeble struggle against the temptation to print money.

Our current predicament was created by years of government through crisis.  The problem with an electorate that only pays attention to Big Stories is that Big Government is the only force that can provide a “resolution” compatible with short attention spans.  Nothing happens until people get worked up by high-profile news coverage, or a problem so big the media can’t ignore it.  It certainly doesn’t help that Big Government has a lot to say about which stories grab the headlines.  The systems which produced our current crisis have bubbled along in the background for a long time, brewing up a lethal mixture of unsustainable commitments, enervating dependence, and suffocating bureaucracy.

In an atmosphere of complacency, glib assurances and hollow promises are much easier to sell than straight talk about long-term responsibility.  The impending bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare, which tower over the paltry billions in discretionary spending the Washington establishment can’t bring itself to cut, were always dismissed as decades away… until suddenly they weren’t, and solutions that would have been reasonable twenty years ago are off the table.

Early in his term, President Obama famously remarked that four or five dollar gasoline was a desirable policy goal, as long as the price was ratcheted up slowly.  Meanwhile, we had all the time in the world to pour billions into magical “green energy” fairy tales.  Now those high gas prices are slamming into us with frightening speed, and we really need the resources we were told we couldn’t spare five years to develop, fifteen years ago.

Like the frog who must be boiled slowly, lest he jump from the pot and escape, Middle America has been systematically weakened by liberal policies for decades.  It seems as if we woke up one morning and found gas and food had become a crushing expense, unemployment a permanent condition, and home ownership an unattainable dream.  In reality, none of those things happened suddenly.  It took years to get here.  We are watching the American standard of living decline… a Big Story that Big Government has absolutely no way to resolve.  It’s time to remind ourselves that we have the solutions, and we both require and deserve the freedom to implement them.