To meet the moment, Mr. Biden should convene an emergency task force empowered to lower prices and address shortages. We need an all-out mobilization, not just a few ad hoc initiatives reacting to headlines. The task force should include relevant cabinet members like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. It should also have state and local officials, along with business and labor leaders from sectors experiencing significant inflation.
The most urgent goal of this task force would be to lower and stabilize short-term prices of volatile goods like food and fuel. We can do this through pre-emptive buying, a tool we’ve used since World War II. The Department of Agriculture should purchase essential food products on the global market during significant price dips, which often occur multiple times a month or even every week, and resell them cheaply to Americans. The department should contract with private wholesalers for distribution, as it has done for decades to avoid storage or logistical challenges. Because the government would be buying and selling large quantities of food when they are cheapest, this would lower and stabilize prices for key grocery store products within weeks.
Although continuous government purchasing can increase aggregate demand, buying only during the dips will neutralize price volatility and lock-in low prices. Economists call this “smoothing.” Only the federal government is large enough to do it.