The Canadian Cost/Price Index (CPI) for the period October 2019 to October 2020 is out, and there was news that surprised some shoppers. Why didn’t they notice? Blame it on pandemic panic and confusion, say some experts. Others say it was a case of ‘expectation fulfillment’…
Be glad of what you do have: Don’t lament the lack of something
you wanted but couldn’t have. Get the whole family
involved and make some good memories!
Did you just assume that food prices would rise as the pandemic went on (and on, and on, and on…)? I know I did. But I was initially shocked to hear that the annual CPI on food was actually up almost 10 percent year over year for the period in question.
At a time (over the summer) when many Canadians were struggling to keep food on the table, keep their roofs over their heads and stay above water on their consumer debt issues, many apparently did not notice that food prices were crawling up, in some cases, alarmingly. It may have been that we were expecting even worse, due to the COVID-19 scourge, and were just happy we didn’t have to weather the worst. But 10 percent is a significant increase in cost for a basic necessity.
It happened gradually, in small increments, while a record number of North Americans were trying to get used to (or even rationalize) lining up for hand-outs at the Food banks for the first time in their supposedly middle-class lives.
My dear old Mom said it all. As we watched CBC Newsworld one afternoon (and a few days later, CNN News) she remarked that she never thought live to see the day that so many that the vast majority of vehicles in the lineups were snazzy SUVs and high-end nameplate. Right on cue, the camera view changed and the nose of a Mercedes at the front of one of the line-ups stared us in the face.
“What are people like that doing, begging for handouts? You mean they can afford fancy cars but not something as basic and important as food?”
I explained that the majority of folks in ‘developed’ Western Countries are overburdened with debt. They’ve been allowed to buy vehicles and homes and ‘toys’ that are, by logical and traditional standards, above their means. Blame the consumer credit companies for that. All it takes is a small blip (or a large one) like 9 months of joblessness to upset their carefully-balanced budgets, throwing their monthly income-outflow pictures into chaos. Who, in a relatively modest income bracket but comfortably maintaining their modest lifestyles and expectations, hasn’t heard from Internet and TV commentators over the past few months about people ‘living beyond their means’, or ‘from paycheque to paycheque’?
I went on to explain how these folks put all their faith in the skills and economic power of the companies and governments (and unions) they’ve relied on all their lives to keep their paycheques coming week after week. They have not only failed to set enough money aside for the proverbial Rainy Day, but some have been robbing Peter to pay Paul along the way, preferring to juggle rather than balance their personal debts, rather than deny themselves things they’ve been conditioned to want by relentless, high-pressure advertising.
Their own fault
“I get it, now,” Mom said. “But I can hardly believe anybody with half a brain would let themselves get into such a position!”
Mom, and millions like her (basically, her whole generation) lived through the Great Depression as teens. All were old enough to see what was really happening when the money dried up, but not all had managed to embrace the principle of avoiding long-term debt governing their expectations accordingly.
I tossed a few terms at her: ‘Credit Cards’; ‘High-pressure Advertising’; the insidious ‘Normalization’ of the notion of high consumer debt by the banks, credit granters and sellers of major-ticket products; the general idea that one had to ‘Keep up with the Joneses’. All those concepts arose after the War, after the Depression; after the hard times had eased. Just in time for the Baby Boomers to sprout and grow up and form their life-values and expectations bathed in the notion that everybody deserved the kind of ‘blue-skies plentifulness’ that the most well-off of the lower strata of society enjoyed. They even coined a new term for it: ‘The Upper Middle Class’. Everybody could get there. Everybody deserved to be there. Everybody should strive to get there.
And since the millennium, following generations have come after the Boomers with even grander of expectations, both of what they ‘deserved’, and what they should expect to do to get it. We of the earlier generations called it, besmirchingly, ‘a culture of entitlment’.
Then, the pendulum swung back
I have a Grand Theory of Everything, under which the world works according to the swing of a great cosmic pendulum. In the middle, we have normal, balanced conditions; everyone is okay if not great. Everyone is secure if not wildly prosperous. All are more or less content. At one extreme is the wild optimism of the stock market before the great crashes. Everyone thinks they can make a fortune overnight. Everyone has their ‘Rainy Day’ money invested in something that can’t miss and will magically zoom up in value. Then the financial skies darken and a tornado comes through destroying everything, leaving the great unwashed masses with no investments, no Rainy Day fund, and no job. The other extreme starts out mainly sunny with cloudy periods, and enough rain to make things grow. Everyone is optimistic, reasonably prosperous and more happy than not. Money gets put away for Rainy Days, retirement funds and other things we want from our world; but our expectations are relatively modest and no one will be left helpless and starving if something goes wrong. This is the Happy Extreme.
Unfortunately, the pendulum keeps swinging and we can’t spend too much time at either extreme. The trick, I believe, is to make the most of the Happy extremes when they come ’round, and be prepared for the madness at the other end of the cycle when it comes again.
But don’t let the recent swing make you over-optimistic…
I think, with Trump’s miserable failure to trip up the affirmation of the recent Presidential Election result, that this may be an apex point on the bad extreme, and things should start to get better, overall. But that doesn’t mean it will happen overnight. We should all get used to the idea of (US)$50. Sunday Beef Roasts, $75 Christmas Turkeys, Butter a $9 a pound, and those $8 Cauliflowers again. Furthermore, we should all be glad we have this good food available at any price, and not complain too much.
~ Maggie J.