WaPo columnist: Isn't everyone tired of Warren's "corporate greed" schtick yet?

AP Photo/Steven Senne

If not that, then how about the incoherence of Democrats in general? While shoppers tried to keep from fainting over the impact of inflation on Thanksgiving dinners, the White House and its allies stepped on each other’s messages. Joe Biden’s team kept insisting that there’s no problem at all in getting turkeys, while Elizabeth Warren demanded a federal investigation into turkey-gouging, or something:

Warren wants Merrick Garland to treat turkey producers as if they’re parents at a school board meeting, or something:

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Monday called on the Justice Department to open a broad investigation on the impact of price- fixing and consolidation in the poultry sector on consumers and farmers.

The former Democratic presidential candidate also urged the department’s Antitrust Division to review “with suspicion” any large mergers in the industry, after Cargill Inc and Continental Grain said in August they would buy chicken company Sanderson Farms (SAFM.O) for $4.53 billion.

Warren said in a letter that consumers are paying higher prices because of excessive consolidation, price-fixing and “plain-old corporate greed.”

Prices for chicken breasts have jumped 26% over the past year, according to U.S. Labor Department data, while turkey prices were up 24% in an annual American Farm Bureau Federation survey ahead of Thanksgiving.

That in itself contradicts the Chip Diller spin coming from the White House and Biden on inflation. Prices are up because demand is up while supply remains low, thanks to a number of factors — a labor shortage and increased labor costs being the most significant of them. Whether or not this has anything to do with the now-expired pandemic unemployment bonuses championed by Warren and other progressives, it was clear at that time that increased labor costs was part of their desired outcome, even while we repeatedly pointed out that this would create more inflationary pressures.

In fact, that’s exactly what the poultry producers report. Supply is down, labor is more costly, and demand is outstripping projections. Inflation isn’t limited to poultry either, but instead is impacting food and fuel prices across the board. (Transportation costs are a not-insignificant contributor to the price increases for turkeys, too.)

In other words, this isn’t corporate greed — it’s simple economics, made more complicated in large part because of artificial interventions by government that create perverse incentives and outcomes. It’s hardly a matter for the Department of Justice, no matter how much Warren and her fellow progressives need the distraction from the outcome of their policies.

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell declared herself fed up with the “corporate greed” schtick coming from progressives, including Warren. That’s especially true as a response to an economic crisis they barely acknowledge:

The left’s rhetorical response to the rising political threat of inflation continues to evolve. First they said the problem didn’t exist, and anyone who claimed otherwise was acting in bad faith or spouting Republican propaganda. Then, they said inflation is real — but President Biden’s Build Back Better plan would fix it.

Now, they tell us, inflation might be happening — but it’s the fault of greedy corporations! And those companies must be punished. …

It’s unclear whether this is a cynical comms strategy (as circulation of a recent messaging poll suggests), or if they actually believe this. Either way, it’s nonsense.

For “corporate greed” to be the culprit behind the recent spike in prices, well, you’d have to believe either that businesses suddenly got much greedier — that this is the greediest Thanksgiving ever! — or that businesses somehow suddenly got much more effective at acting upon that greed.

The truth is much more obvious, but much less useful for Warren and her allies. Rampell also explains the sources of accelerating inflation; besides labor shortages and increased costs, we also have supply-chain issues and skyrocketing fuel costs as demand returns to normal levels:

So they are selling out what they have, turning a tidy profit on those sales, and paying top dollar to acquire even more inventory, the last unit of which is often the most expensive to procure. Similar forces are affecting the energy market as factories ramp up production and gobble up more fuel in the process.

These forces are leading to both record profits and higher inflation. Progressives say you should be suspicious that both things could be happening at once, but the truth is that both are a symptom of constrained supply doing its best to meet gangbusters demand.

Rampell advises Democrats to bite the bullet and admit that the president can’t do much about inflation. That’s not entirely true. For one thing, Biden could reverse his previous executive orders that limit future oil exploration and extraction and approve the pipelines he shut down in his first days in office. The promise of the renewed robustness of American oil and gas production would send futures prices tumbling, which is the only real way to get the price reductions that Biden wants. Lower fuel prices will not only give consumers relief at the pump, it would also extract a major component of inflation from the products they buy elsewhere.

Secondly, it’s too late to be anything other than reactive to the supply-chain crisis.The White House took its eye off this ball early and didn’t react at all until it hit them in the face in late September. This should all have been anticipated and well under way by spring, when Biden’s stimulus dropped into the economy with the explicit purpose of goosing demand. Why wasn’t it? Because Biden and his team routinely play checkers in a three-dimensional chess world, that’s why.

However, Biden could take real action to deal with it now rather than just pretend that it’s a minor hiccup caused by a labor shortage alone. The problem isn’t the number of shifts worked at the dock — it’s the carriage regulations, warehouse capacities, and shipping bandwidth as well. We need a rapid but temporary expansion of all these components to deal with the immediate crisis. Then Congress should pursue longer-term strategies to encourage businesses to move away from, or at least moderate, their Just In Time inventory management philosophies.

As Rampell concludes, though, Warren and her fellow populists aren’t bothering to discuss any substantive issues about inflation. Instead, they’re falling back to their usual tactic of “lazy populist demagoguing,” and the act is wearing thin at the Washington Post. Imagine how it’s wearing everywhere else.