The ‘Putin’s Price Hike’ Canard
In March, inflation jumped 8.5%, the biggest spike since 1981. Economic growth is expected to slow. Voters are expected to be angry. Yesterday, press secretary Jen Psaki warned, “We expect March CPI (consumer price index) headline inflation to be extraordinarily elevated due to Putin’s price hike.” Today, her future employer, NBC, reported: “Inflation hits 40-year high of 8.5 percent due to war in Ukraine, rent hikes.” The Washington Post says much the same. President Joe Biden’s senior adviser for communications at the National Economic Council, Jesse Lee, went even further, accusing those who blame Biden for inflation woes of being “fully in lockstep” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The main problem with this transparently silly talking point is that most voters will surely recall that inflation concerns predated the invasion of Ukraine. I’m not sure what Putin’s position is on American inflationary pressure, but if that’s it, he would be correct — murderous dictator or not.
The Biden administration, in fact, spent a year downplaying inflation fears despite the warning signs, contending that inflation was only “transitory,” claiming that “nobody” was “suggesting there’s unchecked inflation on the way — no serious economist,” dismissing price spikes as a “high-class” problem, and arguing that higher prices might actually be a good thing. (Let’s just say Psaki isn’t cracking jokes about “the tragedy of the treadmill that’s delayed” anymore.)
Like most presidents, Biden wants credit for every decimal point of positive economic news but blame for nothing. Considering that we are seeing the return of jobs initially decimated by state-imposed COVID lockdowns, the president’s boasting is even more misleading than usual.
Inflation is a complex, multifaceted problem that, of course, isn’t entirely any one person’s or event’s fault. Yet easy monetary policy and lots of federal spending during a recovering economy were probably bad ideas, as it turns out. Democrats threw $2 trillion into an overheating economy, on top of the $3 trillion bipartisan COVID-relief bill that preceded that bill. With an assist from some Republicans, Democrats approved another $1 trillion-plus infrastructure bill. The Biden administration wanted to pass another $5 trillion in social spending despite inflationary concerns.
Setting aside today’s numbers, Biden policies often demonstrate the unseriousness, incompetence and partisanship of the governing class. Even as energy prices spike, for example, Democrats continue to indulge in their clean-energy fairy tales. The first item on the White House’s fact sheet, “President Biden’s Plan to Respond to Putin’s Price Hike at the Pump,” instructs Americans to drive pricey, unreliable electric cars and rely on niche, ineffective, highly subsidized “clean” energy sources.
It should not be left unsaid that Democrats want to artificially drive up the price of fossil fuels — which account for 80% of our energy — as a means of constricting usage. This is the intent of almost every climate-agenda proposal. On Inauguration Day 2021, the average price of gas in the U.S. was $2.37 a gallon. Between that day and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden signed an executive order pausing all new government leases on public lands, shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline and stopped pursuing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico over concocted “social cost of carbon” externalities. Russia provided less than 8% of all oil imported into the U.S. World communities are fungible, but Democrats want to prepare for the next gas-price shock by ignoring the abundant availability of reliable energy and retrofitting the entire economy to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars.
You might also recall that before “Putin’s price hike” became the go-to talking point, Democrats spent months trying to convince us that, after 30 years of low inflation, corporations had suddenly conspired to stop competing and began reckless gouging. These ham-fisted efforts to deflect anger over the mismanagement of the recovery are unlikely to work with anyone whose memory goes back even a couple of months.
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