Hyper-Inflation | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly


Taking a Gander: Exploiting the American consumer

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Sticker shock used to describe the rising prices of, mostly, big-ticket items, but what's happening right now—not just in the U.S., but all over the world—is the steepest consumer price escalation ever experienced in the past half-century.

It's not quite to the point where it takes a wheelbarrow full of cash at the checkout stand, but it's a big problem.

Sadly, what's happening is not demanded by necessity, though the robber-baron businesses would certainly have you believe that. If you've been to a gas station recently, you've seen the astronomical increase in the price of a gallon of gas. A car that two years ago took $27 to fill, now costs $60. That means the family is missing $33 from its weekly budget, and something else has to go. The wealthy may not even notice it, but the others—the ones who live each month counting pennies, may be rationing the peas and potatoes at the dinner table.

If this was about helping our Ukrainian brothers, the disruptions caused by COVID, supply-line issues or simply trying to save the planet from rising greenhouse gasses, we might be able to smile through the pain. Instead, we're all staggering under the unpleasant revelation—that almost every extra dollar we're forced to spend is going straight to the bottom-lines of the oil giants and the other monopolies. The word is "greed."

There used to be laws about monopolies and "combinations in restraint of trade," but today they're nowhere to be found. Big business, with its unlimited resources, has dictated the dismantling and non-enforcement of virtually all anti-trust legislation. The inmates are running the asylum; the foxes are guarding the chicken coops.

Oh, sure, with the pinch being put on the oil pipelines of Russia, world supplies are surely feeling the effect of the yet-incomplete embargo. The normal distribution patterns of Russian oil are being interrupted, and that means those countries dependent upon that source must now buy from someone else. It's a simple business calculation: We have a "world economy," so supply and demand determine the cost, not just of oil, but of all commodities.

The corporate mentality processes the situation this way: "If we can get bigger-bucks for our oil somewhere else, we should sell it for more here." Whatever happened to the idea that businesses should have a social conscience? Today it all comes down to one thing. Greed. Is that the best we can do?

Let's say that the flow of Russian oil could actually be brought to a standstill in an effort to cripple Putin's ability to finance his war. Other oil-producing regions would surely fill the gap; the U.S. could increase production; the valves could be opened on Middle-East oil. It's not that the world is running out of fossil fuel. There's plenty, but greed is running the show.

It's a devastating blow to consumers; any recent gains on minimum wage have already gone bye-bye. The petroleum industry, something that could legitimately be viewed as a "public utility" and run for the good of the people, is exploiting the situation, reaping profits higher than any other time in history.

There are projections that America's oil producers will rake-in an extra $200 Billion this year. It's sickening, but that's the way profiteering works. Take any crisis, short term or long term, and make it a scapegoat for unmitigated gouging. Let's face it—it's not like the oil companies have seen a significant cost increase in drilling, pumping and refining. If that were the case, we could better bear the pain at the pumps. But production costs have not grown significantly, which means that every extra dollar consumers are forced to shell-out at the pump becomes unrepentant profit for some of the biggest corporations in America.

The executives will be exuberant over their gazillions in annual bonuses. Investors will thrill at the quarterly and annual numbers. But the average American, particularly those who believed they might finally be able to enjoy a living wage, will groan and suffer while trying to figure out where else to economize. Sadly, the big boys have taken the lead in raping America, but most smaller businesses have also been emboldened to use the standard claims of their big brothers in ripping-off the consumer.

I guess we can, at least, take some comfort in knowing we're not alone. Except in those countries where the government subsidizes transportation fuels, food and other necessities, people are seeing exactly what Americans are seeing—and worse. Europeans are bearing the burden of gasoline prices equivalent to up to $9.23 per gallon. That's enough to send a driver to the cardiac-care unit.

While we love to think that business can somehow regulate itself, it has failed to do so. That's what happens when big business goes unchecked. Healthy competition is really the only way to solve the problem, and our failure at trust-busting the monopolies has put the behemoths of industry and commerce in the driver's seat.

The unmitigated greed of America's largest corporations needs to be reined-in. There's no legitimate reason to allow monopolies to gouge our citizens. In short, it's high-time to resume enforcing the anti-trust legislation of yesteryear—and high-time to change the one-dollar-one-vote system that has allowed big business to hijack our country.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist, and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He lives in Riverton, Utah with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog

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More by Michael S. Robinson Sr.

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