Krugman Is Lucky Erickson Is Either Too Stupid or Lazy to Look at Data

Last week, Paul Krugman went after conservative CNN commentator for claiming that the price of milk and bread was increasing, even though Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke stated that inflation was very low (too low). Krugman is right: the prices of a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread are essentially unchanged since the collapse of Big Shitpile. Yet that’s not the case for many commodities–although the data aren’t good for Erickson either. Before I get ahead of myself though, I find Erickson’s response idiotic. Not just because it embraces ‘truthiness’, but because Erickson is either lazy or stupid (and, of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive).

In Krugman’s first post, he tells you where the data come from–the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you spend about five minutes (or less) poking around the website, you come across this page, which then allows you to find the prices of various goods (often in excruciating detail). Importantly, there are goods which are relevant to households whose prices have increased significantly during the Obama administration–above what occurred during the reign of Little Lord Pontchartrain. Yet Erickson was too lazy–or too stupid–to go through the data and find counter-examples (though that wouldn’t have bailed him out regarding his specific claims of milk and bread).

Incredibly, CNN pays Erickson significant amounts of money to do ‘analysis’, but the man can’t even be bothered to look at very simple data. “Greater than” or “less than” doesn’t require a PhD–or high school math.

This is yet another reason why we can’t have nice things.

Having performed our daily benediction, we can now look at some data.

The short version is that some commodities haven’t really changed since 2008. For many commodities, there is often a massive price decrease from about 2008 – 2010 during the recession, followed by an increase and then a leveling off. For those who had their incomes fall and not rebound, this post-recession increase might be misperceived as ‘inflation.’ For other commodities, the price increases happened during the Bush era, not the Obama administrations. And for others, there were increases during both presidencies. First, a lot of data, then some conclusions (kinda like science, but with more snark and cursing).

While bread prices are relatively stable, flour costs have skyrocketed (leading to increases in pizza costs. ZOMG!):


Of course, this happened during Lord Pontchartrain’s reign, so that’s inconvenient. If you like ground chuck have risen pretty consistently since the Clinton administration:


But ground beef prices have soared since 2010:


If we look at ‘trade down’ meats, prices also continue to rise:




Turkey prices have also increased since 2008, after being relatively constant:


Apparently, 2010 was the year of the Great Sliced Bacon crisis:


Let’s look at some patriotic American food–that is, butter, frozen orange juice, peanut butter, processed American ‘cheese’, soda, and sugar (just what a growing body needs. Or something):







By the way, with that spike in sugar prices, why are we giving sugar farmers subsidies? Just asking. Then we get to the all important item, coffee:


Finally, for those socialist commie types, let’s include a fruit and a vegetable (DAMN YOU MICHELLE OBAMA! I kid):



When it comes to food, it’s safe to say that many food prices have increased, certainly faster than wages. Now let’s look at what people are paying for energy. Gasoline, household electricity and heating oil shot up, not during the Obama administration but during the Bush administration. Somehow I don’t think Erickson will be mentioning this:




On the other hand, natural gas prices are doing well. Fracking is awesome! Except for the methane emissions and contaminated groundwater. And the earthquakes:


Anyway, let’s look at some other non-food commodities (note this uses the PPI index; the vertical axis is relative costs, not the dollar amount). Cars really haven’t changed much:


And if you’re in the market for a vacuum cleaner, laissez les bons temps rouler!:


While cell phone service costs have dropped, we’re getting reamed every which way on other telecommunications-related costs (note these data begin at 2008, not 2000):



So what does this all mean? Well, Erickson is lazy (or stupid). There are plenty of goods whose prices have increased, just not the faux-populist tropes of milk and bread. It’s pretty clear Erickson picked those to attack ‘liberal elitists’, since we all know liberal elitists…aw hell, this is like picking on the slow kid. Snark just feels mean. Anyway, it’s worth noting that many items saw prices increases during the Bush administration, which sometimes continued during the Obama administration, while others shot up during Obama’s term.

To me, if there are any damning data here, they are found in the telecom prices. Unlike food, which is partially dependent on uncontrollable factors (e.g., the weather), soaring telecom prices are a symptom of industry capture of government regulation at every level of government. Somehow, I don’t think Erickson will be decrying that either….

While one should always be wary of professional pundits who claim to be mouthpieces for the vox populi, many commodity prices have increased. Of course, as my Uncle Harry used to say, “Rich or poor, it’s always good to have money.” With wages and incomes stagnating for all but the wealthiest, these increases bite. But I don’t hear conservatives like Erickson offering any serious assistance on that front.

Have a nice (and more expensive than it should be) day.

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5 Responses to Krugman Is Lucky Erickson Is Either Too Stupid or Lazy to Look at Data

  1. Noah Smith says:

    Wait, what is the point of this post???

    • Mark says:

      Mike is Mad.

    • Don Atkinson says:

      Talking heads who cherry pick data but don’t bother to actually look at their cherries (just to make sure that they are not stones) are highly annoying. Or something like that.

      But I will say that trips to the grocery store have been getting noticeably more expensive over the last few years even though milk really hasn’t changed much. Bread keeps going up because I buy the fancy local artisan stuff whose price really isn’t linked all that tightly to the price of wheat.

  2. coloncancercommunity says:

    One of the things that should be discussed more is what commodity SPECULATION by traders does to prices. Speculation, not demand caused a massive surge in oil prices which definitely exacerbated the crash of 2008. A few people say it was the final straw. However, I think it just made the house of cards fall a little bit faster. Along the same lines, the Arab Spring (which is not turning into a beautiful summer like we had hoped) was triggered in part by soaring wheat prices that were in part due to commodities speculation by the 1%.

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