“Let’s eat only two meals a day.” Back in the 1990s, North Korea, which was suffering through a terrible famine, adopted a slogan which cheerfully asked its impoverished citizens to eat less. Decades later, it looks like the Wall Street Journal wants to bring that slogan to America. “To Save Money, Maybe You Should Skip Breakfast”, the Journal headlined a recent short piece documenting inflation in breakfast foods like eggs. Which is honestly quite a restrained take for the Journal. Why not up the ante a little bit and ask some really difficult questions, eh? Like: “Hey Paupers, Have You Tried Existing on Grubworms?” Or: “To Save Rich People from Experiencing Any Inconvenience Whatosever, Maybe The Poors Should Live in Underground Tunnels”.
It’s a bit of a waste of energy – and without breakfast you can’t afford to waste energy! – to get angry over a Wall Street Journal headline that was clearly intended to provoke people. (It succeeded brilliantly at that, by the way: the headline generated a lot of outrage and mirth on Twitter.) The real issue here, the reason this headline deserves any extra attention, is because it’s not just clickbait, it’s a perfection summation of the economy. Our current stage of capitalism demands that poor people make do with less while the rich make no sacrifices whatsoever. We can’t possibly tax the rich to help combat inflation, that would slow economic growth. Nope, far better for everyone at the top if the people at the bottom just eat a bit less. Who needs breakfast anyway?
You know another way we could all save money? Just spitballing here: corporations could stop price-gouging. There are a number of reasons why egg prices have gone up so dramatically in the US, including an outbreak of avian flu, but corporate greed is likely also to blame. Farm Action, a farmer-advocacy group, recently accused major egg producers of overstating the effects of avian flu and colluding to increase profits.
“Egg prices … have on average tripled for consumers since last year,” the co-founder of Farm Action said. “Dominant egg corporations are blaming inflation and avian flu for price hikes, but if they were only raising prices to cover this cost, why are they raking in fivefold product margins?”
That’s a very good question. Weirdly, however, it was completely ignored by the Journal in their avoid breakfast piece. The reason breakfast staples are up according to the Journal? “[A] perfect storm of bad weather and disease outbreaks – and continued effects from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” I’m not entirely sure why they chose to avoid any discussion of corporate greed. It may or may not have something to do with the fact that the Venn of diagram of people who are allegedly price-gouging and the people who subscribe to the Journal is a perfect circle.
Egg corporations aren’t the only ones raking in massive profit margins as everyone else struggles with inflation. Last year the five largest western oil and gas companies made a combined $200bn in profits. Shell raked in a massive $39.9bn in profits, which is the highest in its 115-year history. Meanwhile I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that energy bills have rocketed and it now costs a fortune to heat your house. What are they doing with all that money? Transferring it to shareholders through share buyback schemes. You may be choosing between heating and eating right now, but companies are creating tremendous amounts of value for shareholders. If you’re shivering in your freezing cold house as you read this I do hope you find that just a little bit heartwarming.