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Charge more, pay less

March 02, 2011
Things are tough right now for many Americans, and, for those who are getting down to the last loaf of bread in the cupboard, there's really no light at the end of the tunnel.

For the last few days, we've all driven past the gas stations and watched as the price boards were changed. The price per gallon kept climbing, and it may not have hit a stopping point yet. The current increases are being blamed on the unrest in the Middle East, but, let's face it, all they need to gouge us a little more is another excuse, and they seem to be abundant these days.

Let's see, we get gouged at the pumps during the Christmas season. And gas prices always rise again when school lets out because so many people are taking vacations and using more gas. It's simply the old "supply and demand" thing, you know how it is. At any rate, we're all going to be digging further into our almost-empty pockets to pay for gas to get back and forth to work. And at the rate we're going, vacations may soon be a thing of the past.

Isn't it strange, that supply and demand thing? Why is it that when there is a little less of something, it's suddenly worth more, that is, except for money. If I were selling tomatoes in front of my house for $1 each but then raised the price to $2 when there were only two or three left, my neighbors would think I'd gone off my rocker. And with good reason. But isn't it odd how we don't accuse oil companies of being off their rockers? We just fill up our tanks, say bad words under our breath and pay what they ask. And they know it. Exxon Mobile's 2010 profit of $31 billion almost sent the company to the poorhouse, so it's no wonder they need to tap us for more this year.

A recent article in The New York Times revealed that, by this fall, we'll all be paying more for many consumer goods: flour, corn, sugar, wheat, beef, pork, coffee, shoes, washing machines and other appliances, cotton and leather. So, when you stop by the grocery store, whatever is left after you fill up your tank with gas will be gone by the time you get back to your car with the shopping cart.

This time, the price increases will be blunt and to the point. No hiding the gouging in the old shell game. For the last few years, and I'm sure most of you noticed, you no longer get a pound of coffee. They've reduced the size of the container. It looks almost the same, but holds almost 1/3 less, at the same price or more, of course. And it's the same with many products. Pay a little more, get a little less; no one will notice.

But now, we notice. In the years when there were plenty of jobs, decent paychecks and actual savings accounts, it wasn't a big deal to go to the grocery and see that the food companies had downsized products and raised prices. We griped, fumed a little, went home and forgot about the whole thing. Now, all of that is catching up with us. Prices on most of what we use are increasing, but wages aren't and haven't been for quite a while. You just can't keep taking more and more out of the piggy bank without, at some point, putting some back in or running completely out.

"Saving accounts are a thing of the past for my husband and I," a friend of mine recently told me. "There's nothing left of our paychecks after paying our bills, and I don't see anything changing, except it may be getting worse. Neither of us see any chance of getting a raise, and we've cut our cable TV, we don't go out and eat, we carpool, we have a garden to help out, but it's not enough. We've worked hard all our lives, but, for the last five or six years, we've slipped farther and farther behind. It just doesn't look good for us."

I wish we could make a pronouncement to people like that — that help is on the way or things will get better — but we all know better. In the last quarter, American companies have made more profit than anytime in history, and companies are sitting on mountains of cash. But I guess that's just not enough. Exxon Mobile made $31 billion in profit last year but still needs that 25-cent increase at the pumps. I guess its board of directors needs $50 billion this year, so let's all put our noses to the grindstone and help them out.

At a time when politicians regularly sell out to big business for campaign funds, how can we expect them to act on our behalf? They have an agenda. More money for campaigns, more favors for the money. Big companies want every workers' union busted, and politicians are more than willing to oblige; just show them the money. Big companies keep raising prices at the grocery store; we have to pay them. Big companies want to pay less for wages; we get less because we have no voice. Big companies send our jobs overseas; we have to helplessly watch them go.

Charge us more, pay us less. Brilliant, simply brilliant! Except for one little problem: what will Kellogg's do once we can no longer buy the cereal? Smaller boxes won't help. Neither will politicians. They don't help those down on their luck, even when they helped make them that way.

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