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RACHEL BEGLIN COLUMN: Focusing on the benefits that come with inflation

Despite the incoming economic hardship, I am still glad that we are seeing inflation. Gas prices should be going up. Food prices should be going up. Not because I want the cost of living in the United States to increase, but because I believe these prices reflect the true cost of living in the U.S. — a cost that has been artificially subsidized for too long.

Photo of Rachel Beglin with quote

This is an unpopular opinion in a working-class small town, but I’m going for it anyway.

I’m secretly grateful to see inflation and so many supply-chain issues right now.

I’m speaking from my logical brain — not my wallet. Because of course inflation is hardest on the lowest-income families. Of course the tick in gas prices is going to hit economic classes differently.

I am not pro-suffering, and for those who are unsure when they’re going to be able to put gas in their tank next or buy fresh produce again, I know that the system has failed.

When the minimum wage is not a living wage, we’re not even ready for this conversation. Everyone deserves to live a dignified life, and for those who cannot afford to survive right now, I am not talking about you.

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But overall, despite the incoming economic hardship, I am still glad that we are seeing inflation. Gas prices should be going up. Food prices should be going up.

Not because I want the cost of living in the United States to increase, but because I believe these prices reflect the true cost of living in the U.S. — a cost that has been artificially subsidized for too long.

We take a lot for granted in this country. We are used to department store shelves that seem to magically replenish overnight; we are used to grocery stores with seemingly unlimited meat, eggs, cheese, bread, pretzels, donuts, salsa… as if these foods do not have to be grown, harvested, produced and shipped on a daily basis.

We have globalized our economy, we have outsourced our production, we have lost valuable knowledge of how to make things ourselves and be resourceful, and the price is, in fact, high.

Now we’re paying for it.

I see this inflation as an opportunity. I see it as just enough incentive for people to reconsider how we run our economy.

First of all, we have to do less. Of everything. There are activities in the U.S. that we assume are rights but are in fact extreme privileges.

Take travel, for example. In 2017, the CEO of Boeing estimated that only 20% of the world’s population had ever taken a single flight. We have seen travel and airline flights as a relatively accessible, reasonable, expected part of life in the United States for years, myself included. Many people I know take multiple flights per year.

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But fossil fuels are limited resources, and they are economically and politically costly — people are losing their lives in the Middle East and Ukraine over the gas that fuels our trips every day. Again, the price has always been high — but now we are starting to pay for it.

It might not seem appealing, but I think this is the beginning of a reassessment of what a human life can and should look like in the middle of a climate crisis.

It will mean sacrifices. It will mean tapping into our new remote work, virtual learning and Zoom meetings to avoid regular airplane travel. It will mean being more selective with your trips. It will mean high prices for airline tickets — as they should be.

For more regular travel, like commutes and errands, high gas prices might get people (and city councils) to rethink public transportation. There are cheaper and more efficient ways to move people around, even in rural areas.

There is hope that we could see trains, metros and buses take off again as the reality of fossil fuel scarcity and political instability set in.

And if not public transportation, I think we will at least take electric vehicles a little more seriously, though public transportation makes significantly more sense environmentally than reproducing our entire automotive fleet in electric vehicles.

As meat prices rise (and we remember meat factories shutting down at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic) , families may begin to consume less meat.

This, too, would actually be a move in the right direction, as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations, otherwise known as factory farms) have made the cost of meat historically artificially cheap, wherein the cost of producing a pound of pork dropped, though the environmental costs, or externalities, rose greatly.

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Instead of paying in dollar bills, we paid in rivers poisoned by hog sewage, less nutritious, fattier meats, heart disease, diabetes, higher cholesterol and taxes to fund Medicare and Medicaid to take care of those who were increasingly sick.

The cost of factory farming has always been high, but now it’s showing up in our bank statements. Reducing the amount of meat we eat in our homes could have wondrous benefits for both the environment and human health.

For decades, we in the United States have enjoyed more than our fair slice of the world’s resources while burning more than our fair share of energy.

It’s always been unsustainable — we were burning the metaphorical coal plant at both ends. Environmentalists have been warning us that this time would come, and it has. But it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it just might be the beginning of a new one.

I don’t mean to sound like a doomsdayer. I actually believe that this at-first startling inflation could lead to change that leads to joy and increased quality of life for many Americans.

If nothing else, we can surely empathize and support those who are paying for the energy wars in more than just gas prices but with their lives and independence. And I’m not just talking about Ukraine.

The Syrian refugee crisis, too, was linked to climate change and drought as the impetus for civil war and upheaval. These issues are global and connected and therefore require local and coordinated responses.

I have a sincere hope that this might be the point in human history where we turn the ship around.

Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., Rachel Beglin now resides in Bemidji. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, sustainability advocate, gardener, writer and coffee enthusiast. She can be reached at beglinr@gmail.com.

Related Topics: LOCAL BUSINESSENVIRONMENT
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