Beefing Up Inflation Fears at the Washington Post

May 29, 2021

There have been a number of reports that people are getting increasingly concerned about inflation. That could be due to the fact that they are seeing the prices of the things they buy go up rapidly. Or, it could be because they hear from the media that prices are soaring.

The Washington Post looks to be making that latter case. A piece on its homepage was headlined:

“Even in the face of surging grocery prices, retail beef and pork prices cause sticker shock.”

Well, that sounds pretty bad. Fortunately, the first full paragraph contradicts the headline.

“Overall food prices rose 0.4 percent from March, and are up 1 percent from a year ago, according to data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis on Friday. The price of pork soared 2.6 percent in the month of April and 4.8 percent from a year ago, adjusting for seasonality. And while beef and veal prices stayed fairly flat for the month, they are up 3.3 percent from a year ago.”

A 1.0 percent year-over-year rise in food prices (actually, it’s 1.2 percent) would hardly count as “surging” in most people’s minds. It’s considerably less than the overall rate of inflation and down from a 4.0 percent increase going from April 2019 to April 2020.

But what about the price of beef and pork creating sticker shock? Well, inflation fans know that the price of these items are highly erratic. It is easy to go back over the last two decades and find many occasions where there were far larger increases.

For example, in the case of beef, the price went up 24.6 percent in the year from June 2019 to June 2020. It rose by 19.0 percent in the year from January 2014 to January 2015, and by 23.5 percent in the year from December 2002 to December 2003.

There is a similar story with pork prices. They rose by 12.4 percent from May 2013 to May 2014 and by 13.0 percent from November 2009 to November 2010.

The long and short of it is that there is zero real story here of soaring food prices. The price rises in beef and pork that are allegedly causing sticker shock are much smaller than price increases we have seen in these products in the recent past.

Maybe the Post should just stick to reporting the inflation that actually exists and not try to invent some on its own.


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