Lettuce Talk: Inflation Explained

You’re right.  Things are super expensive.  Anyone who’s been to the supermarket recently knows that a weekly shop now requires access to a line of credit, if not a second mortgage.  Last week, my local grocer was selling a head of lettuce for eight dollars.  Eight dollars.  I’m not sure my own head is worth that much.  Come to think of it, I spent less on my first car.  Eight bucks is a lot for an iceberg, most of which will probably go limp and rot in the bottom drawer of the fridge.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Grapes are now being sold separately.  Banana skins are now referred to as ‘accessories’ and incur an additional charge.  I picked up a packet of batteries that came with the warning; ‘batteries not included’.  Things are tough all over.  You know it’s out of hand when your groceries are delivered by Armaguard. Worst of all, this seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere.  Things are trundling along when, all of a sudden, inflation swoops in and kicks over the chair you’re sitting on.  It’s just plain nasty.

So just what is inflation? For starters, it’s so much more than an awesome nightclub where, in the 1980s, mullets roamed freely amongst the acid wash jeans and rivers of Bundy and coke.  Inflation, generally speaking, is an increase in the price of goods and services as against purchasing power.  It’s a measure.  And it’s one that’s not really loomed large for quite some time. Which is why it’s so shocking to see it make so fulsome a return.  Like a child you thought moved out of home to begin life as an adult but who, later, turns up on your couch without explanation eating your cereal, inflation is back.

I was born in the nineteen seventies – an era that didn’t invent inflation but certainly came close to perfecting it.  It was a wild decade. Those who were there were profoundly affected by the long shadow that inflation cast over everyday life. It was so much more than the price of fuel.  Inflation told us that restraint was utterly futile.  As a result, the seventies gave us flared trousers, cheese fondue fountains and disco music.  Self control was, more or less, abandoned altogether.  There were terrible consequences.  Growing up in an era when inflation ran rampant is one of the reasons why my hair was so big in the eighties.  Probably.

I’d feel better if I knew that the vegetables were benefiting from these gargantuan prices.  But it’s not as though your local turnip has suddenly moved into a higher tax bracket and is now setting up a family trust. That said, I do know a bag of spinach that’s just moved into a six-bedroom house in Brighton, which is probably bad sign.  Worse may yet be to come.  Soon, things will be so expensive that when avocados get smashed, it’ll only be on Moet champagne.  

In the seventies, we didn’t just have inflation.  For reasons that can’t currently be located, it wasn’t enough that we had to suffer through terrible food, fashion and music, we had take something that was pretty ordinary to begin with and find a way to make it even more dreadful. Specifically ‘stagflation’; which combines inflation with stagnant economic conditions.  Yuck.  Even the term itself should be enough to put you off.  Stagflation sounds like something that happens to a prospective groom the night before his wedding whereby he ends up drunk and tied naked to a set of traffic lights.  The effects are similar.

So how did we get here? The economy is a complex beast and it’s wrong to over-simplify things but, in a word, Putin.  Granted, there are other factors – a pandemic that put pressure on supply chains whilst demand for goods has increased. But, still, Putin.  That shirtless, feckless freak who decided to ruin things for everyone by invading a peaceful country.  What a jerk.  

The weird thing about Putin is that some in the West used to fawn over him admiringly.  There were some commentators who, to put it mildly, were in love with Vladimir Putin.  For some odd reason, they regarded him as a defender of conservative values if, indeed, riding around on a horse half naked can, in fact, be considered a conservative value.  He’s always been a tyrant, and now that tyranny is responsible for unleashing inflationary forces through higher energy prices and suppressing supply of key commodities.  That’s a lot of mayhem and destruction for just one person.

It’s a reminder how fragile things are.  Who’d have thought that war would return to Europe in the twenty first century?  But here we are.  And whilst we’re all paying a price, it’s nothing compared to the price paid by those in Ukraine.  It’s a truly shocking thing.     

Having grown up with inflation, I now feel compelled to return to my childhood.  Yesterday I wore flares.  Today I am overwhelmed by an urge to see melted cheese run through a fountain.  Tomorrow I may even hum a disco song.  But even if inflation reminds me of the seventies, I know that – like the nineteen seventies – this will end and things will get better.  I hope it’s soon.

Everything’s Kaputin – Autocratic For the People

The world is crazy.  And by ‘crazy’, I don’t mean ‘white goods at unbeatable prices’ kinda crazy or even ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps’ coffee mug crazy but, rather, crazy in the most totally and irretrievably deranged, brutal sense imaginable.  Doubtless, there are some incredibly intelligent people who can give extraordinary and insightful analysis as to why Ukraine has been invaded.  But for all their dissections of history and geo-political tensions, the whole thing seems to boil down to one, simple proposition – Vladimir Putin is a jerk.

And by ‘jerk’, I don’t mean ‘wouldn’t let me merge whilst trying to get on the Eastern Freeway’ type of jerk or even ‘he pushed in front of me and bought the last remaining boysenberry choc-top at the mid-afternoon screening of House of Gucci’ kind of jerk.  I’m talking about turbo-charged, supersonic jerkdom that’s so gigantic that it casts a shadow for miles and can be seen from space.  We’re talking ‘Hall of Fame’ jerkiness that will be remembered.  Forever.

I mistakenly assumed everyone felt the way I did. After all, it’s not hard to hate a guy whose hobbies include poisoning his enemies and annexing the Crimea. This is someone who went his entire childhood without smiling.  Chances are, he only smiles now when he’s stealing a kitten or putting his rubbish in someone else’s wheelie bin.  But not everyone thinks he’s a cad.  

I’ve never met Tucker Carlson.  I did, however, write to him once when he said that Australia ‘has no freedom’.  My letter informed him his comments had gone down like the proverbial cold cup of sick and that instead of having ‘no freedom’, we have so much of the stuff that it sits around in buckets.  That was seven years ago and I’m beginning to suspect he may not write back.

Tucker had a lot to say in the days preceding the invasion.  In particular, he encouraged his viewers to question why they hate Vladimir Putin.  The answer, ‘because it’s deeply satisfying’ was, apparently, not good enough.  Instead, he implored those watching to ask themselves a series of questions as a means of determining whether it was fair to dislike a murderous autocrat.

The first question was ‘Has Putin ever called me racist?’ I’m not sure that Putin has called me anything, but I put that down to luck.  To date, we’ve never met.  But if we did, I’m certain he’d steal my bathroom soaps, extinguish his cigar in my pot plant before kicking the gate on the way out. That’s if he even agreed to leave. Knowing my luck, he’d annex the living room and spend the evening watching re-runs of ‘Perfect Strangers’ (he’s a big fan of Balki, apparently).

Tucker’s second question was even more penetrating: ‘Has Putin ever threatened to fire me for disagreeing with him?’  Not me, personally.  But he has a pretty handy record of assassinating opposition leaders and adding a spoonful of Novichok to someone’s tea when a sachet of Sweet’n low would have been more appropriate.  Now that I think of it, getting fired by Vladimir Putin would be the least of your problems.  I’m really not sure what point Tucker was trying to make.  

It didn’t end there.  Tucker also asked whether Putin had ‘manufactured a worldwide pandemic that wrecked your business?’  It’s not a theory I’ve heard, but I’d say it can neither be ruled in or out. The questions then came thick and fast.  ‘Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination?’ (I don’t believe he’s registered as a teacher, so possibly not).  ‘Is he making Fentanyl?’ (Definitely – he’s got a thing for pharmaceuticals.) It ended with the somewhat mystifying ‘Does he eat dogs?’  (I can’t say for sure but, on balance, probably.)

Before I had so much a chance to finish writing down my answers, Tucker spoiled it by adding, ‘The answer to all these questions is no’.  I had one ‘no’, a couple of ‘yeses’ and a ‘maybe’.  I’m not sure what the point of the exercise was, save that it’s surely the worst decision tree, ever.

Things only got freakier from there.  He referred to the tensions (and, frankly, imminent invasion) as a ‘border dispute’.  That’s a bit like describing Ebola as a case of the sniffles.  Tucker then compared the ‘border dispute’ with a decision to allow ‘the world’ (presumably tourists) to enter America.  He then made what can only be described as the stupidest statement ever uttered on television, which given the humdingers that preceded it, is saying something – noting that situation is described as ‘equitable’ and the other a ‘war crime’.  The difference, of course, is tanks.  Generally, if you turn up in a tank there’s a chance that your arrival will be viewed as hostile.  Or maybe that’s just me. 

 P.J. O’Rourke would have had plenty to say about the current state of affairs. He passed away a couple of weeks ago.  I loved how he wrote about politics.  Insightful, hilarious and biting.  He’d have had plenty to say about Tucker Carlson.  P.J. and I didn’t always agree, but he’d have agreed with me on this much – Vladimir Putin is a jerk.