Morici: Moms Know Inflation, the Government Doesn't

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The typical American mom must think government economists have rocks in their heads. According to the number crunchers at the Labor Department, over the last year prices were up only 1.2%; for the month of November, inflation was zero, nada, zilch!

Surely economists don't eat, or at least shop where Mom does. Sliced bread and hamburger, staples in her family's diet, were up a lot last month. She faces higher health insurance costs and co-pays, thanks to Obamacare.

The government's Consumer Price Index tries to measure gains in prices across the entire economy, but that stat is only an average. Most Americans simply need some items more than others, and sometimes it is those necessities that rise the most.

For example, average consumer prices were flat in November largely because gasoline prices were down, but most of everything else was up. For the mom in Brooklyn who rides the subway to work, lower driving costs are not much help. Heating oil, which many families must purchase in New England, rose at a nearly 4% annual pace.

Back to the food aisle. The price of steak was down but most moms don't buy much sirloin these days and must purchase about the same amount of hamburger each month. It may be great that restaurants catering to hedge fund managers got a break on bovine protein, but Mom can't mix a porterhouse to fashion a meatloaf to feed her hungry family.

Over the last decade, many Americans have not had much in the way of pay raises, and some who lost their jobs have new ones that pay less or have no job at all. Even if inflation had been zero, they would be worse off.

The bite of state and local taxes has increased even as community services have declined and more children are required to pay for school supplies. All that leaves moms with less to spend on rent and groceries.

But the CPI misses all that.

Also, the CPI does not consider new products that have become necessities unless a mom wants her children to be grossly disadvantaged.

Internet, smartphones and tablets were not in the family budget at the turn of the century. All that technology is great, but kids don't eat fewer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches now that they have iPads.

Prices of some essentials -- or things that should be -- never fall, no matter what. During the financial crisis many Americans put off treating less-than-urgent medical conditions, and some health care providers were less busy than they would like. When was the last time your dentist sent a flier announcing "inventory clearance on kids checkups and crowns 30% off"?

Times have been tough for most Americans, and it is natural to focus on the rising price of hamburger and ignore the falling price of chicken. But in 2013, families were asked to endure more than $200 billion in higher federal taxes.

The bigger tax bite left Mom with less to buy what her family needs but the government doesn't include its take in the Consumer Price Index, even though it could.

You can bet the gang at the White House or on Capitol Hill will never publish data on the skyrocketing cost of government.

Politicians don't struggle on a budget quite the same way Mom does. They can print money, or borrow and never repay, in ways she can't.

Politicians can simply tax Mom as she wends down the supermarket aisle and doesn't adequately appreciate how great it is to live in a nation without inflation.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Professor Peter Morici, of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, is a recognized expert on economic policy and international economics. Prior to joining the university, he served as director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission. He is the author of 18 books and monographs and has published widely in leading public policy and business journals, including the Harvard Business Review and Foreign Policy. Morici has lectured and offered executive programs at more than 100 institutions, including Columbia University, the Harvard Business School and Oxford University. His views are frequently featured on CNN, CBS, BBC, FOX, ABC, CNBC, NPR, NPB and national broadcast networks around the world.

If you liked this article you might like

Economy Would Be Better Off With a Republican President

Economy Would Be Better Off With a Republican President

A Professor's Message for the Holidays: Time to Celebrate!

A Professor's Message for the Holidays: Time to Celebrate!

Paris Climate Conference Is a Bad Deal for America

Paris Climate Conference Is a Bad Deal for America

Weak U.S. Jobs Growth Is Only Part of a Bigger Problem

Weak U.S. Jobs Growth Is Only Part of a Bigger Problem

What Walmart's and IBM’s Troubles Really Tell Us About the U.S. Economy