The rising cost of living

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

IT'S NEVER a good time to increase prices – except, of course, when everyone else is doing it. For some consumers today, it must feel like merely living is becoming too costly a luxury to maintain.

The pandemic presented an irreversible inflection point for global economies. Small, artificial ones such as ours are buffeted by upheavals in far-off places. We are woefully ill-prepared to face the resulting changes, not the least of which are dramatic shifts in the costs of many commodities.

With threatened increases in flour prices, there came news of other impending adjustments. Everyone else, it seems, was itching to swap out their sticker prices. For good measure, Nestlé warned the public that soon you'll be paying more for some of its milk products. I can almost hear DJ Khaled, "An-udder one?"

Speaking of DJ Khaled, paying more for milk is one thing, but beer? That has got to be beyond the pail (ugh). Carib Brewery announced it too would be adjusting the prices of some of its beverages, citing increasing production costs. A few barflies interviewed for reactions by the media weren't having it. They're going to make a principled stand, saying they'll switch to hard liquor.

Arawak also indicated it will increase the price of chicken by four per cent in response to rising international grain prices. That's no chicken feed when compounded by other price rises across the board.

New and improved prices are like another wave of hikes in a pandemic of economic recalibrations that saw prices in groceries climb several times last year.

As a matter of interest, the average consumer has more power than they imagine to keep the costs of their weekly or monthly grocery shopping down. Many of us could benefit substantially from reducing the amount of flour, meat and booze in our diets.

These foods aren't exactly staples, but then the word staple has probably been bastardised beyond recognition, to the extent that it now incorporates pigtail, Crix and Netflix.

Of course, there's the temptation to pin rising food costs on the behinds of the avaricious business class. Soaring costs play into the one-per-cent narrative – depredations of moneyed echelons who are responsible for all injustice and our stifled success.

While greed in business is a real thing, there are far more complex forces colliding here. The price controls and other interventions some blowhards have demanded the Government undertake can't fix these problems any more than magic could.

While this administration plays no small role in the fallout associated with breathtaking economic mismanagement, the ravages of price rises are beyond the scope of even its inestimable buffoonery.

Markets are wracked with considerable strain as a result of the pandemic. Food-chain disruptions, rising grain prices, economic necrosis caused by prolonged lockdowns – all these factors sparked irrevocable resets in the global market economy.

Then there are increased shipping costs, triggered, in part, by a scarcity of shipping containers – yet another legacy of pandemic disruptions. Spikes in shipping rates have a contagion effect on the prices of the goods you buy. Forex pressures, for which there is no short-term remedy, aren't helping matters either.

Some local companies are holding their hand for now. That restraint is probably less owed to altruistic fealty to the consumer than to the fact that they increased prices only a few months ago. To change pricing again might further poison consumer confidence, which isn't ideal for a business in pandemic-recovery mode.

Worse still, we haven't actually seen the true price increases yet. The impact of surging inflation in the US economy, caused by fits and starts to get supply chains up to speed again, will likely make its presence felt more acutely during the course of this year. We will pay even more for the food we import.

This over-reliance on food imports is, of course, the inevitable harvest of a systematically dismantled agricultural sector. Successive governments have consistently undermined agriculture in favour of a false ideology of development fuelled exclusively by oil, industry and copious importation.

It's easy enough to say dwelling on the past doesn't move us forward, but the Minister of Agriculture is a relic of that past. His thinking and that of his ilk won't advance the cause either.

Consumers will have to get used to paying more for everything. The pandemic has turned a page in a book that, unfortunately, most of us haven't even been reading.


"The rising cost of living"

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