How Inflation Hits Home

Plus: Canadians weigh in on Americans’ criticism.

Pump at gas station
Getty; The Atlantic

This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely, intriguing conversations and solicits reader responses to one question of the moment. Every Friday, he publishes some of your most thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Earlier this week, I quoted criticism of Canada’s use of emergency powers to end the trucker protests. And I noted high inflation, asking readers, “How are increases in the cost of living affecting you?”

Below is correspondence on both subjects.

James is well-off enough to shrug off rising prices in most sectors, but not all:

I know inflation is happening from reading about it, but I haven't noticed it. I buy gasoline for my minivan, I eat at restaurants, I shop for groceries. But my income exceeds my expenses enough that I don’t have to budget tightly, so inflation is simply abstract to me. I’m much more concerned by the cost of housing in Olympia, WA, where I live.

Money is tighter for Emily:

The inflation figure I see quoted is 7%. However, within the past month or so, virtually everything I buy at the grocery store has increased 12-15% based on some quick calculations. I’ve started shopping at bigger chains to save money, taking money away from local unionized businesses. My boyfriend’s a full-time student. Loans means he lives on a fixed income. He’s been running up his credit card because the money he took out to cover cost-of-living expenses isn’t enough anymore. I’m told the economy’s doing great, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. The prospect of our rent increasing keeps me up at night.

Harriet is affected by inflation but feels a duty to focus her attention elsewhere:

Yup, the rising cost of living is affecting me. And I’m certain that the war in Ukraine will exacerbate inflation and deplete my retirement fund. But it’s time to show some real patriotism and guts, tighten our belts, stop fighting culture wars, stand behind our government, and pull together in defense of Western liberal democracy. Putin and other Big Men here and abroad imagine that without a strongman at the top chaos will erupt—and are doing their best to make it happen. The real question is how to persuade the American public, who are squabbling about mask-mandates and school curricula, to stop playing into their hands.

Harold acknowledges that inflation is painful, posits that pandemic spending helped to cause it, and argues that the spending was worth it anyway:

Over the second half of last year our family of five received an extra $900 per month thanks to President Biden. That translated into a 16% increase in cash on hand while inflation was at its highest levels in 40 years. For those 6 months our family was ahead by 10% on average compared to 2020 despite inflation. We were able to live modestly, pay down credit card debt, and still have money in excess to treat our daughters to things we were not able to do in the past. In addition to the government programs, workers on the lower third of the scale were able to command the highest wage growth in decades.

Unfortunately, there is real pain as a result of inflation. Not everything is a neat 7.5% higher. Gas may be 40% higher. Higher inflation affecting rent, food, and other essentials disproportionately affects those on the lower end of the income scale, potentially wiping out all of those gains. The increased spending power of those previously unable to fully participate in the economy is one of the several causes of inflation. But I am willing to pay more knowing others will have opportunities they never had in the past.

As hard as it was to raise three young girls during a pandemic, the monthly payments made all the difference in our lives. It need not stop there. The concept of monthly payments for kids can be extended to others being left behind. Strong wage growth, increased worker leverage, and flexible working conditions are all positives born out of the present environment. If we can endure the pain for a while longer, this has the potential to improve more lives. A society has to decide how its resources are to be shared. Those that can afford to pay more should want to improve everyone’s lot. How many trips to space do you need to see the suffering that can be alleviated here on Earth?

Perry bridges today’s topics of inflation and the Canadian trucker protests:

I laugh when pundits decry inflation when anyone with 2 cents’ worth of brains knew it was coming. It’s just like the supply chain crisis. It will take another year or 2 to work out and that is if we do not hit another variant that has a high morbidity. In the meantime, The Trumpikens will take the House and impeach Biden once a week. I am sure that will help inflation.

We live in a golf cart community, one of the largest in Florida. The gas price hike is felt but the golf cart gets 60-80 miles per gallon and we can go almost anywhere in it. Groceries are higher but the real problem here is cream cheese. Especially the absence of the jalapeno variety. There was also a run on 9V batteries but I am not sure why.

My son, very conservative, was upset about the Declaration of Emergency in Canada. His first comment as we smoked high-end cigars and drank craft beer was about freezing assets and whatever. I told him that may have been excessive but had he ever lived in a town where he could not get his children to school safely or traffic was choked by a protest? Mum was the word. Canada can do what they want. We are not far behind.

Turning fully to the trucker protests, John, who is Canadian, argues that recent criticism of Canada in the American press has been overheated:

There is some unfortunate slippage between what the government has the authority to order under the Emergencies Act and what it has actually ordered. As Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made clear this week, there was no broad crackdown on donors to the convoys. The government sent the RCMP (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) mere “dozens” of names for accounts to be frozen, encompassing just the key organizers and the owners of trucks that refused to move after the Emergencies Act was invoked. The freeze was temporary and will now be lifted, with no money taken whatsoever.

While it is true that these actions did not (as they usually would) require a court order, many commentators have neglected to note the following safeguards:

  • An all-party committee of both houses of Parliament is immediately being struck to review the decision to invoke the Act
  • A public inquiry will be initiated within 60 days to review the full circumstances of the Act’s invocation
  • Multiple court challenges are likely, with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Government of Alberta already having announced their intention to sue
  • Trudeau must eventually answer to the electorate for this decision

There are legitimate reasons to question Trudeau’s decision, and whether the situation met the standards set out by the Act, but much of the American coverage related to the truckers has been overheated, ill-informed, and treated as a mirror for the American culture war. We are a country whose deep-seated inferiority complex leads us to bask in the fleeting glow of what limited American attention we manage to garner, but now that we are in Tucker Carlson’s sights, most of us just want it to stop.

Kathryn defends Canada’s use of emergency powers—and castigates Americans for failing to condemn protests that she characterizes as an effort, at least by some, to overthrow her government:

As someone who lives in Ottawa, as all of our politicians also do during the week, I feel you have not at all represented why the Emergency Measures Act was brought into play. We don’t have a national guard and we did not bring in the army. The Act was used because we do not have other legislation that allows the police or RCMP to close off access to the entire downtown, or that would allow them to bring in police from all across the country to help them immediately, as was needed for this absolutely bizarre protest.

We have hundreds of protests a year in the city but we have never seen one with giant obstacles parked on the streets everywhere, residential and parliamentary, with cans of diesel/propane, open fires and fireworks going off everywhere, weapons hidden inside vehicles, and all with the goal of overthrowing a recently elected government—all with millions of dollars of support arriving in order to extend it to more than three weeks in length. Ottawa Police Services were overwhelmed and the Ontario government did not respond quickly or much at all to send in provincial police because they thought it would be nice if the federal government had to wear it. Also we have a provincial election coming up so they didn’t want a disaster on them if they could help it.

The Prime Minister withdrew the use of the Act today as we hopefully do not need it anymore. We knew it was going to be short and there you go. Before you pile on to say that he is a tyrant, you must note that it received approval in a vote from the House of Commons in a minority government where the Prime Minister does not have enough members to ensure it will pass. Then it was being debated in the Senate. It must be approved by parliament within seven days of invocation and also requires a full review after the fact. It expires within 30 days. This is a very limited piece of legislation that is required to be proportional and targeted and was implemented in a way that was extremely specific to shut down the horror Ottawa residents lived through.

The funds are being freed. The only reason you care in the US is because so many Americans, Trump donors, donated to a protest that was based on a memorandum of understanding planning to overthrow our government. Sure, they did bring along many truckers they were able to pick up along the way to swell the numbers, influencing the most gullible people who are hurting from this pandemic, but the extreme right wing movement of the leaders has tried protests for secession and racist hatred before. But you don’t mention that, or that the prime minister cannot negotiate with secessionists. None of this bodes well for Canada as we deal with your unwanted overflow mess, so maybe just leave us alone.

Thanks for your contributions. I read every one that you send. See you next week.