Who pays the price?

War and disease have always brought economic hardship.
Even before the war in Ukraine caused record high gas prices, two years of the pandemic have made people a lot poorer in terms of how far their dollar stretches.
Local farmers are worried about the soaring costs of everything from fertilizer, to gas for their equipment, to the cost of transporting what they produce. Families are concerned about the soaring costs of grocery bills. Almost everyone in the area gets around by car because there is an underdeveloped public transit system in the Pontiac. For many seniors and anyone relying on the Social Assistance Program, life on a fixed income can be very difficult when the cost of essentials just keeps going up. The cost of such things as lumber, cars, computers and various other products that our society is dependent on have shot up over the course of the pandemic.
Last December, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Canadians were being warned that food prices were going to rise from five to seven per cent.
And let’s not forget housing prices which have increased so much over the last 10 years that the prospect of home ownership for entire generations of Canadians has been rendered almost impossible for those who do not want a lifetime of debt.
Everything seems to be going up except wages, which is a problem that started long before 2020.
After adjusting for inflation, the average wage earned by Canadians has been largely stagnant since 1970, according to one analysis done by Statistics Canada.
Meanwhile, even with rising prices, some people are still making money, in some cases, lots of it.
Are the CEOs of Esso or Ultramar taking pay cuts right now? Does anybody think the heads of the three corporate conglomerates that control most of the grocery stores in Canada – Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro – are hurting from those high grocery bills?
In fact, Loblaws Companies Limited just reported a 41-per-cent increase in profits just as everyone’s grocery bill shot up. There have also been various reports of corporations telling their stockholders that they are increasing their prices just because people expect inflation. That should make you question simple narratives about what is really behind the price spike of everything that we’re currently seeing.
That’s not to say all price increases are caused by pure profiteering. Some inflation is caused by lingering supply chain challenges and work interruptions caused by COVID-19 that have reduced supplies while demand has remained constant, or even gone up in some cases. Some inflation, such as in the cost of housing, can partly be attributed to the Bank of Canada’s long-standing low interest rate policies designed to stimulate investment and economic growth. Gas price inflation, which can have a profound effect on an entire economy in which the movement of goods is such a big component, has recently been caused by Russian oil being taken out of the equation in most western countries.
Some businesses, especially small businesses with narrow margins, have no option but to raise prices when their suppliers raise theirs, just to keep the lights on and meet payroll.
We are told that paying more at the pump is the price we have to pay for supporting Ukraine which, to be fair, is a noble cause. If not buying Russian oil stops Putin’s invasion and helps avert World War III, it would certainly be worth it.
But why aren’t the CEOs of oil companies being asked to sacrifice? Why can’t the shareholders and executives of massively profitable grocery conglomerates take the hit instead of, or at least alongside of, their customers?
We live in a society where it appears acceptable for the cost of living to go up for people who work, seniors and the disabled, while the profits of some of the wealthiest are off limits.
Yes, inflation is a complicated process that can’t be attributed to any single source, and this makes it difficult to manage. But neither is it a neutral phenomenon. It produces winners and losers. In the end, who pays what is a choice made by somebody.
When times are bad, we should all be in it together. As of now, it doesn’t look like we are.

Brett Thoms


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