I don’t know who’s computing the Consumer Price Index that shows the U.S. has low inflation, but their computations don’t square with my real-life experience. The filing cabinets brought it home to me, once again. Somewhere around ten years ago, I bought a legal size, two drawer, black steel filing cabinet. Last week I brought one almost identical to it, from the same big box office supply company from which I’d bought the last one – except for the price, which was almost exactly double what I paid for the one I purchased ten years earlier.
According to the U.S. Consumer Price Index, the inflation rate over the past ten years has been 25.5%, or just a shade less than 2.0% annually. The change in the price of the filing cabinet represents a rate of inflation at 8% annually, or four times the official rate. The majority of that increase is likely due to the fact that the cost of iron has almost quintupled since 2004, but by that logic, anything manufactured out of steel or iron should have increased markedly over the last ten years – far more than the 2% per year official inflation rate. Interestingly enough, over the same period the price of copper has tripled, while lead and tin are 2 ½ times what they were in 2004.
Housing prices are, overall, about the same as they were in 2004, although in some areas they’re still below 2004 levels and in others, such as Denver and Honolulu, they’re more than 20% higher. This year, one of the biggest factors holding down inflation has been the decrease in gasoline prices – except that’s just for the first nine months of this year – and gas prices are still almost double the average of ten years ago.
Then, too, the CPI has the price of men’s shirts as going down. If that’s so, why do my shirts, bought largely at sales or discount houses, but the same modest brands as I’ve worn for at least fifteen years, cost twice as much as they did ten years ago?
As for milk, its price has almost tripled since 2004, but I will admit that the cost of computer printers has definitely gone down – as has their service life – while the cost of ink and toner have gone up, again roughly double what they were ten years ago. A ream of paper now costs more than twice what it did ten years ago. My work boots have increased more modestly; they cost only 53% more than they did ten years ago.
Now, one of the ways economist discount/minimize increased prices is by factoring in “product improvement,” which definitely makes sense in some areas. There’s no doubt that cars are safer than ever before, but that improvement comes at the much higher cost for repairs of dents and dings. Several years ago, my daughter’s thick-skulled canine Woofie [short for Beowoof (intentional name pun)] side-swiped the front quarter-panel of an almost parked Volvo moving at perhaps 2 mph. Woofie got a headache and lived happily on for several more years. The damage he inflicted on the nearly new Volvo was close to $1500. Crumple zones don’t care what hits them. I also seriously doubt that this kind of cost, which certainly drives up the costs of maintaining a vehicle – and the cost of insurance – is accurately factored into inflation calculations.
While I really can’t discern any “improvements” in paper, shirts, boots, and filing cabinets, as a former economist, I can certainly note, while not exactly appreciating, the ingenuity of government economists in measuring inflation rates, in what I personally believe is a statistical con game.