Things essential to life are only getting more expensive…


From The Baffler:

People keep complaining about “income inequality” and writing books about how grindingly difficult it is for an alarmingly large number of Americans to get by.

Conservatives seem to have noticed that their primary argument—why do you feel so poor when you have such a large TV?—has had trouble making inroads among people who actually experience life in the United States and who don’t work within the think tank–lobbying firm–Council of Economic Advisers circuit. They’ve noticed, too, that while TVs, for example, are quite cheap, things essential to live—and things essential to “get ahead” in the United States—are only becoming more expensive.

The American Enterprise Institute even produced a chart illustrating the problem. It shows the prices of things like new cars, clothing, toys, and TVs staying steady or dramatically falling relative to the inflation rate, while food, housing, child care, and—especially—medical care skyrocket in price. If you want an explanation of why non-wealthy Americans feel so stretched thin even in a time of supposed abundance, there it is. They can afford to get their kids toys but not bachelor’s degrees.

The zombified condition of the traditional bulwarks of American achievement and opportunity—home ownership, higher education, secure and pension- supported labor—is another key reason that the Heritage Foundation has been churning out the same basic report over the past thirteen years. It’s much harder to make that standby conservative argument about poverty, that those stuck in the ghettos remain poor only because they blow all their money on televisions and Cadillacs, when the costs of televisions and Cadillacs are declining while the costs of the things they’re “supposed” to be spending money on instead, like textbooks and tutors, are soaring further out of reach. AEI, for its part, suggests that the problem might be that the government is making the expensive things expensive while free markets keep the cheap things cheap. And for once, a right-wing think tank may have stumbled onto something resembling the truth—at least in part.

While the profit motive is the singular factor making health care so much more expensive in the United States than in any other wealthy nation, it’s not totally incorrect to say that higher education and housing are more expensive because of government intervention. The rising costs are one effect of a misguided effort to expand access to the good life by expanding lender access to government-backed debt instead of simply giving people homes and degrees.

If the liberal political class is still dedicated to its ostensible solution to stagnation—tell your kids to borrow against their future earnings to attain the credentials necessary to enter the professional class, and hope housing values just keep going up forever this time!—the unfettered free-market types are working on a sales pitch for settling for much less.

“Consolation Prize”, Alex Pareene, The Baffler

Photograph by Pankaj Kaushal via Flickr (cc)