Ignore Biden Talk About Zero Inflation. Here’s the Reality.

COMMENTARY Markets and Finance

Ignore Biden Talk About Zero Inflation. Here’s the Reality.

Aug 11, 2022 4 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Peter St Onge

Research Fellow, Thomas A. Roe Institute

Peter is a research fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House on August 10, 2022. Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The headline consumer price index came in at 8.5% year-over-year inflation, down from last month’s read of 9.1% year-over-year and unchanged over the month.

Walmart and Target have already warned on earnings and markdowns, with more likely to come.

Federal spending is $1.5 trillion higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly $4 trillion higher than the Clinton era.

The highly anticipated consumer price index numbers for July came out Wednesday, and while energy fluctuations drove the headline number down, ominous trends show President Joe Biden’s inflation will continue to devastate the American people.

The headline consumer price index came in at 8.5% year-over-year inflation, down from last month’s read of 9.1% year-over-year and unchanged over the month. The latter led to Biden taking a victory lap bragging about “zero inflation”—which would be news to most Americans.

The problem is this month’s moderation was driven by two things, neither of them good: impending recession and the cynical use of our Strategic Petroleum Reserve to game crude oil prices. Without those factors, inflation would actually be accelerating.

First, the recession. Two weeks ago, the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced the American economy had entered its second quarter of negative real economic growth. That has been the definition of a recession for 75 years, despite the Biden administration’s attempts to rewrite definitions. Recessions generally lower prices because consumers pull back, leaving unsold inventory that businesses have to discount to sell.

Indeed, last month’s numbers show prices of goods except for energy moderating, even as prices in the much larger services segment accelerated. Meanwhile, food prices, which are insulated from recession demand changes, hit a fresh 50-year high, rising 13.1% year-over-year.

Goods discounting could get worse in the coming months as recession hits inventories bloated over the supply chain crises. In short, companies overbought to compensate for stuck supply chains, and with recession on the horizon, they’re stuck with unsold inventory that they may have to sell at a loss.

Walmart and Target have already warned on earnings and markdowns, with more likely to come.

Crashing the consumer while pumping out trillion-dollar spending bills is no way to fix inflation, but it’s par for the course for this administration, which serves activists first and leaves the American people to pay the price.

The second distortion in this month’s inflation moderation is energy. The Biden administration is cynically draining our Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the tune of 1 million barrels per day right up through Oct.  31—coincidentally, just days before the midterm elections on Nov. 8.

This is eating the seed corn instead of planting the crop, and this administration is using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a political Band-Aid to hide the oil supply it’s choking off.

Unfortunately for the American people, Biden’s Band-Aid can only last so long. He’s already sold fully one-quarter of the entire Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which took generations to build up, reducing it to its lowest level since 1987. At this pace, the entire reserve would run dry in 18 months, leaving our country fully exposed in any war, supply disruption, or genuine crisis.

Even draining the reserve at historic rates has so far simply hidden lost production under Biden, without touching the new production we might have had.

Since late 2019, American production of oil has dropped by roughly 1 million barrels per day—almost precisely Biden’s release. But production should have dramatically increased, given oil prices nearly doubled since 2019, going from $50 per barrel to nearly $90 today. Indeed, the last time oil prices doubled, from 2016 to 2018, production increased by more than 30%.

That new production would have tempered or even canceled gasoline price hikes, leaving us much closer to President Donald Trump’s 2019 price of $2.65 per gallon. Instead, not only are Americans coping with a current national average gas price of $4 a gallon, Biden’s running down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at historic rates just to keep it from rising.

Over the coming months, ongoing recession concerns could keep tempering goods and energy inflation, but the underlying cause of government spending is actually getting worse. The historic increase in money supply over the past two years—a pace faster than that of the “Great Inflation” of the 1970s—will continue driving up prices and squeezing the American people, while keeping the federal government flush with cash.

This administration’s word games, Band-Aids, and parade of trillion-dollar spending bills already enacted—with yet another one poised to clear Congress on Friday—suggest Biden’s inflation will continue for months, if not years, to come.

Instead of crashing the economy and draining the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the fastest way to curb inflation is to radically cut government spending and end the war on production, particularly on oil.

Federal spending is $1.5 trillion higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly $4 trillion higher than the Clinton era. Putting the federal government on a long-overdue diet would go a long way to reining in runaway inflation, but it will take more than the gimmicks and excuses the American people are getting from Washington.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal