Inflation Warnings, Oh No!

Ideas and Issues

June 15, 2021

San Jose 

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. The entire economy collapses due to the pandemic. In a rarity, the federal government stepped in to save the day so that millions of Americans don’t starve to death as almost twelve million were unemployed. Now, of course, we have to hear daily about inflation as the economy opens up again. Gas prices at the pump that were putting hundreds of smaller oil companies out of business are rising now, and so are many basic food stuffs and other necessities. The sky is falling once again. What are we to do?

The Wall Street Journal ran a feature recently on the protests of the 60s and 70s over inflation, which I couldn’t help reading. I remember them well, since they were happening here and there during the period of my awakening as an organizer. With gasoline prices in the $2.50 to $3.00 range now, many wouldn’t really understand how people might hit the streets when gas was half that level, but I can remember gas wars in the South when competing stations might be offering gas for nineteen and twenty cents a gallon.  Everything is relative.

For years, the joke in ACORN among the veterans, whenever we tried to make younger organizers feel better about a campaign that didn’t work out or get traction with the membership, I would, laughingly, tell them about the Anti-Inflation Campaign we tried to mount at my direction in the mid-1970s, as prices continued to soar. Suffice it to say, it didn’t go well. The targets were everywhere, and nowhere. It was a locomotive going down the mountain, running off the tracks, and out of control. The government was yelling, but businesses were doing what businesses do, and increasing prices. We did some demonstrations. I can remember being part of a paltry action in Memphis around 1976.  Some handmade signs and about twenty of the hardcore “day timers,” as we used to call them, was all we could show on a street corner. It didn’t take much more for me to pull the plug, ending the anti-inflation campaign.

On the other hand, we fought utility companies for years, because gas and electric prices were going through the roof, forcing shutoffs, and bullying of the regulators. The companies had most of the commissions buffaloed by lawyers and experts and many had gotten used to embedding fixed profit rates into the increases. ACORN was a warrior in these fights, the members were everywhere, and could smell victory. One action where we announced a Shutoff Day against Arkla, the local gas company, wasn’t our most effective, because there was no way to measure success. At the commissions, fighting hammer and tong, we won a lot, but it was ultimately bittersweet. We would never stop an entire increase or totally block a new plant construction. We were winning one half loaf after another. A plant would be built, but smaller. An increase would be announced, but somewhere in the middle.

What’s the moral of this story? If inflation is coming, don’t think stopping it will be easy, and don’t think convincing people victory is right around the corner will be easy either.