John Robson: Inflation, High Gas Prices Should Have Been Predictable

John Robson: Inflation, High Gas Prices Should Have Been Predictable
The prices of regular gasoline and diesel fuel are displayed at a gas station in Montreal on May 11, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson)
John Robson

British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan apparently once told a journalist the hardest thing about politics was “Events, my dear boy, events.” They have a way of happening, and surprising you. But sometimes, as my old music teacher used to say in his rare moments of lucidity, “It’s not the instrument, it’s you.” Sometimes the events are quite predictable and it’s the surprise, confusion, and inability to cope that are surprising.

For instance my old dissertation adviser, in one of his habitual moments of lucidity, commented that while World War I was a legitimate shock, World War II came along “pretty much on schedule.” Even so it managed to surprise a lot of policymakers and pundits, while many ordinary people went “Ugh, it’s here.”

Which brings me to inflation… again. An email from The Australian newspaper just told me, “RBA [Reserve Bank of Australia] tipped for ‘bigger than expected’ rate hike” and I thought “expected by whom?” Well, economists, presumably. Or not, since it was economists who the story said were expecting the unexpected, to borrow a phrase from “The Kentucky Fried Movie.”

One shouldn’t have to. Especially when discussing public policy, the obvious analogy shouldn’t come from a vulgarity-fest by the creators of “Airplane” before their sense of humour failed to mature. Its jokes would get them cancelled in a heartbeat today. But as Chesterton said, the opposite of funny isn’t serious, it’s “not funny,” so we can all enjoy a good laugh that the same people “in charge” in Western countries who couldn’t see inflation coming now cannot, for the same reasons, act decisively to stop it.

Instead, “Inflation takes a bite out of Biden’s infrastructure ambitions,” NBC reports, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg mumbles, “Certainly that creates an additional pressure, and it’s something that we’re going to need to monitor closely and manage.” Rhetorical vacuity concealing intellectual vacuity.
Then there’s gas prices. A brief, widely reprinted June 5 Canadian Press story said, “Gasoline prices continued to trend upward across much of Canada over the weekend and experts warn more increases are coming this week. The Canadian Automobile Association says national average gas prices rose to nearly $2.06 on Sunday, up almost three cents from the day before and 11 cents higher compared with a week ago.” Surprised?

At least the experts see this one coming, a year or so in. But what are we meant to do? Especially if “we” are politicians who spent decades promising to make gasoline unaffordable without it impacting the cost of living. Once again events blindsided them. But only because they avoided studying basic economics.

Some now blame inflation partly on increases in the cost of gas, with a “Kentucky Fried Movie” newscaster-style deadpan expression that might lead you briefly to overlook that blaming rising prices on rising prices is fatuous. To be fair, my political hero Calvin Coolidge once said, “When large numbers of men are unable to find work, unemployment results.” But as so often, “Silent Cal” was poking fun at modern pomposity so subtly the targets missed the point. (Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes, one meaning of irony being sarcasm evident only to part of the audience.) And on policy, Coolidge knew what to do: Less than nothing. Cut taxes, cut regulations, pay down debt, and mind his own business.

By contrast, modern central bankers are so focused on preventing temperature from rising 0.1°C by 2100 that they can’t be bothered preventing prices rising 10 percent by 2023. If we’re lucky. (A search of the RBA website for “climate change” yielded 9,856 hits; “inflation” just 4,978.)

If you need someone to invoke Draconian legislation designed for insurrection or invasion to deal with parking violations, our leaders are right there. Or to fight “Islamophobia” or ban an MP from the Commons for the first time in 75 years over trivia (last one was a convicted Stalinist spy; this one wouldn’t say if she’d had a vaccine). O tempora o politicians.

Macmillan’s remark supposedly embodies his wisdom. But arguably he too was one of those privileged people who drifted into and out of power largely at the mercy of events. Though his distinguished World War I career included lying badly wounded in a Somme shell-hole for over 12 hours, alternately feigning death when enemies passed by and reading Aeschylus in the original Greek, not the sort of thing one typically finds in the biography of a modern “statesman.” And he belatedly opposed appeasing Hitler in the late 1930s.

So here’s the deal. To beat inflation, we need adults prepared to take an unpopular stand on sound economic principles and stick with it. To lower gas prices we need fewer “carbon” taxes and revenue grabs, and more development of our hydrocarbon resources. Not people who freeze in the glare of predictable events like pompous deer facing slow-moving headlights.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”
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