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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

If the economy is thriving, why are we all broke?

Graphic+Ella+Duggan
Ella Duggan
Graphic Ella Duggan

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice.

The economy is thriving right now.

Do you believe that statement? When we go to Target or Roche Bros and can’t afford to buy eggs or milk, how can we believe that the economy is thriving?

In an article published in The Atlantic on Feb. 14, author Rogé Karma asserted that “to fully embrace the economy’s strength would be to sacrifice part of the modern progressive’s ideological sense of self.” 

But Karma seems to be writing from the perspective of someone on the outside, comfortable enough in their privilege and lifestyle to make assumptions about the moral righteousness of those who don’t have the same luxuries. 

It’s true that many Americans do not understand what the economy is, how it functions, or how we all contribute to it—my friend who has taken a financial literacy course tried with all of her heart to tell me that only minimum wage workers had to complete tax returns. 

What most of us actually understand about the economy is how it impacts us. Those of us without hedge funds and financial planners to advise our investments do not feel the effects of the stock market’s all-time high. We see the egg and gas prices rising and feel, instead, the truth of our own financial situations. 

Financially, the average American cannot afford anything. And that is further exacerbated for college students, who have to balance working with studying, and thus only have the capacity to work part-time, usually minimum wage jobs. 

Yes, inflation was only at 3.1 percent in January, down from 6.4 percent in January 2023, but inflation only accounts for how much prices are rising. The truth for us as consumers is that the prices have already risen. They rose 6.4 percent last January and 7.5 percent the January before that—and they only continue to rise. 

People are treating the economy as healthy for consumers because inflation rates are decreasing, and ignoring that prices themselves are not decreasing. The reality is that every 10 and 20 cent price increase makes anything but the bare necessities unattainable to more and more Americans. 

Karma claiming that the average person fails to understand the economy’s strength because they are unable to “sacrifice [their] … ideological sense of self” is outrageous. The 8.4 million Americans who work multiple jobs to make ends meet certainly don’t have time to sacrifice their sense of self.

We fail to understand the economy’s power because we do not realize the economy’s strength when it only serves to profit those who do not need it. The federal minimum wage is only $7.25. Massachusetts’ is $15.00, but is that really enough when just one late-night El Jefe’s run costs at least an hour of minimum wage earnings?

After tax—and maybe health insurance, and rent, and utilities, and basic necessities like food—what is left of a $15 wage? Why are we expected to live in squalor to save money, when those who profit off of the thriving economy burn through it like paper? Elon Musk makes more every single minute than a minimum wage worker in Massachusetts might be lucky to make in two whole months. 

The generations before us blame our financial struggles on frivolous spending, but we are forced to live in an economy that favors suppliers over demanders. If I am living paycheck to paycheck to afford the bare necessities, why would I save my extra $5 or $10 a week to afford the average down payment in Massachusetts and buy a house in 174 years’ time?

If the choice is between saving money for the rest of my life to achieve the American dream of buying a house by the time I’ve already retired, or spending $10 on a sweet treat once a week, I’m going to be munching on that treat like there’s no tomorrow. 

Sure, the minimum wage raises maybe a dollar or two every couple of years, but prices still rise at an unsustainable rate—especially after the effects of COVID-19 on the market. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to pay premium prices for basic products because of supply shortages. We did it because we had to—it was a pandemic, right? Everyone was struggling. But from that, businesses learned that when push came to shove, people would pay those prices. 

And corporations are greedy. They don’t make decisions based on what is moral. If they can sell eggs for $6 and buyers will still clear the shelves, you can be damn sure they will sell eggs for $6. If they could, they would sell eggs for $50, or $100. 

The common perception of the economy in shambles is no coincidence, and it is not simply an ideological act. It is the work of corporations who continue to let us pay luxury prices for products that are worth less than half of their selling price. 

To the average consumer, these corporations are a double-edged sword: they price gouge, as they have been doing since the pandemic, and with this they make us believe we are in an economic crisis, which allows them to continue to price gouge. 

The longer we buy into the idea that things are expensive due to the state of the world at large and some contrived idea about a self-controlling economy, the longer we let corporations and their greedy executives continue to profit off our ignorance.

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About the Contributor
Ella Duggan, Assistant Opinion Editor
Ella Duggan (she/her) is a freshman communication studies major from Wellington, New Zealand. She likes writing about sports, feminism, and pop culture. Outside of the Beacon, she sings tenor for the Emerson Acapellics, is an avid reader of romance novels, and loves hockey - Go Canucks!

Comments (1)

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    Gibney Ries / Feb 22, 2024 at 2:08 pm

    I understand the author’s frustration. However, it’s important to remember that corporations are not a “they”. They are an “it.” The people running corporations have no moral obligation to the consumer. They do, however, have a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholder. Running a business is not a hobby – it is a money-making endeavor, and prices are based on supply and demand. To use the egg example, the high cost of eggs was not the result of corporate greed or COVID price gouging. Egg prices jumped 49% in 2022 because the US was hit with the deadliest outbreak of avian flu in our history. Supply was low, so prices went up. The economic system in the US is capitalism, and this is an excellent example of a central characteristic – competitive markets.

    It’s easy to look at the corporate world and its leaders and deride them for price gouging. It takes a little more effort to research what happened during and after the pandemic and understand why there were shortages and the impact they had – and in some cases are still having – on the cost of goods. In a nutshell, when the entire world was locked up, shopping became a primary form of entertainment. Supplies dwindled – and no one was making more. Then, the doors opened, and we were all back in the world – those shelves weren’t going to fill automatically. It took time for things to come back online.

    I disagree with the author’s statement that the economy is “in shambles.” Inflation has pulled back significantly, and we’re actually seeing deflation. In January 2024, food prices have declined (source US Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI as of Feb 13, 2024). And the premise that corporations “continue to let us pay luxury prices.” is nonsense. A corporation doesn’t “let you” do anything. You – the consumer – decide to purchase an item at its offered price. Too expensive? Is the value of the goods not equal to the price? Then vote with your wallet and don’t buy it.

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