Over Easy: Feeling overinflated

For the Valley News
Published: 6/24/2022 10:37:06 PM
Modified: 6/24/2022 10:36:48 PM

I’m calling this week’s column Fun With Inflation! We’ll look at why the carpenter ants of the world economic order are chewing through your net worth and what you can do about it.

You can read this column, for starters. Just 800 words (more or less) later, you won’t be any less informed than when you started. Try to match that, mainstream and Conspiracies ’R Us media!

And you can recycle this page when you are finished. I have seen my words and crumpled face in the recycle bin at the Lebanon landfill, amid the extended warranty offers, AARP magazines and Dartmouth Health marketing mailers. (I think they saved money with their recent branding makeover by having the boys in the HVAC shop work up the new logo. Check it out and see what you think.)

But about that inflation thing. You might think you know the root cause, but you’re wrong. Almost nobody knows. Perhaps you blame Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, the Saudi royal family (getting warmer), Prius owners (cooler), TV weathermen (losing the trail), the guy who mumbles into the drive-in speaker at Taco Bell for $18 an hour (interesting theory) or the notion that nobody wants to work anymore (despite record low unemployment.)

Think of the economy as an over-inflated whoopie cushion. That may sound stupid, but the smart people have failed us, and we are on our own.

Now think of the economy as a global carnival game. You go to the fair and bring home a giant poorly made panda from the Hongzhu Toy, Electronics and Brake Linings factory. You think, why can’t we manufacture poorly made pandas here at home?

Or think of the economy as a mixed metaphor. Maybe we didn’t get our ducks in a row before they hatched. Or we opened Pandora’s Box, and the chickens had already flown the coop. Maybe liberals want their cake served on a silver platter. Conservatives claim it’s too late to put out the fire because the horse has already left the barn. Or would that be a good thing? Who knows?

The fact is that gasoline is about $5 a gallon here in the Upper Valley, which is not, I think you would agree, ideal. It could easily cost us $20 in gas to drive back and forth to Concord, where a couple times a year we poke around a few stores, amble a bit on Main Street and buy a burrito. This makes it in effect a $28 treat, a burrito crisis.

All this is doubly hard for me, because in my youth gas cost as little as 35 cents a gallon. I worked for a time at a filling station, where many drivers ordered a dollar’s worth. The big spenders shelled out $5.

Gas mileage wasn’t a thing yet. Fords and Chevys had trunks so large one could hold four bags of groceries, two spare tires, a golf bag, a lawn chair, a fake Christmas tree, a full set of mechanic’s tools, a couple of bum car batteries, several rickety tire jacks and a rusty spare gas can.

My coping strategy for gas gouging is reality avoidance. I decide how much I can buy without hurting my psyche and wallet (formerly $25, now $40) and purchase no more than that. If it means more frequent trips to the gas station, so be it. Denial has gotten me pretty far in life, sometimes to interesting places.

Where denial could fail is with heating oil, now well over $5, or double what we might have budgeted. I just read in our own Valley News that Liberty Utilities, which cranks out the electricity that allows me to aimlessly scroll through the internet, wants to double the per-kilowatt price. Is it time to cut back? Is that even possible? I’ll Google it to find out.

To be candid, our household accounts have been in the black the last few years, and the increases shouldn’t really be a problem. Lots of people I know are in the same boat, but they should have kept it to themselves. Someone — the Fed, greedy corporations, the National Tycoon Council or maybe some shadowy figure called “the man” — has caught wind of it, that we have too much money.

They are coming after us, like they always do. No superyachts for the middle class. No second homes in Aspen. No private jet trips to the Claremont Super Walmart.

So what can you do about inflation? Not much. Drive less? Tell your boss you want an 8.9% raise ASAP? Switch over to store-brand bagels? (Try the extra-plain plain ones.)

This ill wind is putting our boots to the fire — and I’m afraid the inflation train has already left the station.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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