The hidden tax of inflation prevents people from getting out of poverty. Inflation isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a huge obstacle to prosperity for the vulnerable and low-income. And even if Congress and the Fed have good intentions, their next steps could make the current bad situation worse.
The latest inflation data from the consumer price index shows an increase of 6.2% over the last year. This means that Washington took this out of your paycheck from no fault of your own or without you sending them a check.
This sleight of hand is caused by the Federal Reserve built on the excessive spending by Congress and it crushes the hopes and dreams of many, especially the poor.
If you received a raise recently, say around 8%, then about three quarters of it is not real—it’s inflation. The purchasing power of goods and services through your raise is cut by higher prices. If your raise was about 6%, normally a healthy increase, then your purchasing power doesn’t change. At this pace, prices are set to double in less than 12 years, but will your paycheck?
People with lower incomes tend to receive smaller raises, and those on fixed incomes receive no raises or raises that just match inflation, such as those on Social Security. For them, inflation is the harshest of taxes and they can’t avoid it. Families with lower incomes have few assets like corporate stocks that can grow as prices rise.
This inflationary blight on low-income earners is the Fed’s doing, but Congress gives the Fed the means to do it and it looks poised to double-down on its bad decisions.
Congress has already authorized $7.2 trillion in spending since the shutdown recession, including much of the waste in the recent $1.2 trillion “infrastructure” bill. Now, the House’s Build Back Better Act would increase spending by $5 trillion, after appropriately excluding budget gimmicks, and increase the bloated national debt by another $3 trillion more than without it over a decade.
This spending would likely be more expensive because the policies would destroy an estimated 7 million jobs by paying people not to work per economist Casey Mulligan’s estimates and reducing entrepreneurs’ investments based on the Tax Foundation’s assessment. And these job losses would most likely be concentrated among those with lower incomes. Increasing unemployment over time would make more people dependent on government, which may be a feature of the bill instead of a bug.
Other proposals, like “green energy” projects and “incentives,” would increase the cost of living for everyone and hurt those with low or fixed incomes most because they’re least able to absorb it. And while the Congressional Budget Office could soon release their cost estimates for the BBBA, we should take them with a grain of salt as they could be too rosy because its static estimates have long been problematic, which is why it should move to more realistic dynamic scoring.
Though Congress’ boondoggle spending doesn’t directly cause inflation, it provides the fuel to the Fed’s fire of printing more money. These progressive policies in Washington are crushing the poor, even as they’re providing tax cuts for the “rich,” and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight—unless this this latest big-government bill appropriately fails.
Impolitic government programs, like those in President Biden’s agenda, incentivize dependency on government and create cycles of poverty. Few things are more harmful than this because it cuts the rungs out of the ladder that many people use to climb out of poverty and better their lives, both financially and otherwise. These rungs of the ladder start with a job. Work is the only way to permanently earn more over time and improve human dignity that comes with financial self-sufficiency, community, and social capital.
If Congress really wants to give people a hand up—and not just a handout—then it should focus on repealing those programs which disincentivize work and remove the tax hikes that disincentivize investment that goes to hire more workers.
Likewise, if the Fed intends to improve the economy, it should focus on reining in inflation which it controls, not lecturing on diversity. These measures would help take the costly pressure off people, especially low-income earners instead of crushing them based on the president’s progressive agenda.
We’d be wise to remember what Milton Friedman correctly said: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”
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Vance Ginn, Ph.D.