Thursday, May 1, 2008

Newton was Wrong: Things Fall Up

At least when it comes to consumer prices, Newton was dead wrong. The force of gravity is not here on earth when it comes to the prices of the items we buy--it's somewhere out in deep outer space, and it is pulling prices up, up and up.

There had been a rumor erev Pesach that one of the pizza stores was going to raise its prices to $4.00 per slice. It's no longer rumor; my students confirmed last night that the store did indeed raise to $4.00 per slice. That's $32.00 for a pizza pie!

I filled my car up yesterday. My station is still a "cheap" one and only went to $3.19 a gallon for regular gas. Okay, my Toyota gets great mileage and I can get away with only filling up once a week for regular commuting and trips around the neighborhood. But tonight there is a wedding in Monsey. Then there are sheva brochos--add another fill up at $35.00.

Bread and wheat products went up in price at the supermarket. It's a strange world where Coke can go on sale for 89 cents per two-liter bottle but the equivalent amount of milk costs three times as much and more. And fruits and vegetables? Worth their weight in gold. Grapefruits and oranges at 50 cents each, if you can get them at that price.

There are food shortages being reported around the world. Countries that exported certain products are either cutting down on what they are exporting or cutting out altogether. The US is not exempt from this either. With so much of agricultural production going towards the production of ethanol, the prices of soy and corn for personal consumption are going through the roof. The market had a package of 4 corn on the cobs for $3.95. And when cattle and chickens are being fed corn-based feed, you get an idea of why beef and chicken prices are going, going, gone up.

So what does this mean for the kosher consumer? Nothing good. For those who have all along been spending without any planning or budgeting, they are in for real sticker shock when they tally up their monthly spending. For those who do work with a budget and watch their expenditures, there is almost no wiggle room left. And economists are forecasting that prices are not finished climbing up yet. Shipping products from point of origin to point of sale takes fuel, and fuel costs are driving many food costs up. Kosher products have always been more expensive, because of their limited sale audience, and they, too, go up in price in concert with the general products sold.

So what's the answer? I wish there really was one in place. Our government has invested heavily in ethanol and other bio-fuels. The "experts" are saying, many of them, that this is a costly mistake. It takes fuel to make these alternative fuels and the cost is not cheaper then regular fuels. It has also driven up food prices because producers of corn are being paid far higher by the companies that buy the corn for fuel production then they get when they sell their corn for people consumption. We aren't spending enough time and money in looking at and developing other means of power. Vast parts of this country fall into Sunbelt regions. Solar energy is more than just a possibility in these areas, and yet, where is the push towards solar energy? Even northern areas could take advantage of solar power during the warmer, sunnier parts of the year, reducing their dependence on fossil fuels.

This country is still jam packed with brilliant scientists, engineers and the like. They've managed to perfect systems that turn off lights when the system senses that no one is in the room. They've managed to invent some of the strangest devices every seen--a coffee pot that senses when someone enters a room and starts percolating--and yet where are those brilliant minds when it comes to addressing the problem of fossil fuel reliance and that fuel's price impact on other consumer goods?

All roads lead back to our politicians. I do so wish they would get their heads out of wherever their heads are at the moment and actually see what is happening to the people they have been elected to help. Yet there they still are, spouting gibberish about democracy and Iraq, about building bridges to nowhere in Alaska, about erecting statues to some long forgotten war hero in a square in Podunk USA, about whether we should change our entire system of paper currency so that every denomination is a different size, so that those with severe vision problems can feel the different denominations. Never mind that every single machine that accepts bills anywhere in the country would have to be refitted to accept the different sizes, at an astronomical cost.

Here in our borough our Borough President has a "brilliant" solution to the fuel problem. He is going to be spending some $5,000,000 on building parks in every general neighborhood so that people will not have to use cars to take their kids to the park. Yup, that is a major problem for people everywhere--driving to the park. And yet our borough still has no major public transportation with the exception of some buses--not enough of them--that don't run often enough. Glad to know they are using our tax dollars so wisely.

Here's a thought. Let's stop complaining to each other alone. You're sitting at your computer right now reading this. Just how much time and energy would it take to send off a letter to all your government representatives telling them that you want them to take their heads out of the clouds and start addressing the real problems that need addressing now? "What would one letter possibly accomplish?" you scoff. Who is talking about one letter? If all blog readers sent a letter, sent 10 letters, you are talking about considerably more than one letter. Public officials are sensitive to public outrage, particularly when they get hundreds and thousands of letters. Do your part--send a complaint. It's the cheapest thing you will spend on today, and it just might eventually result in pizza that doesn't cost the same as a standing rib roast.

Wherever Newton is now, I'm sure he is blanching. Unlike his theory, things fall up. Let's save Newton some embarrassment; let's go back to a time when things always fall down.


concernedjewgirl said...

"--and yet where are those brilliant minds when it comes to addressing the problem of fossil fuel reliance and that fuel's price impact on other consumer goods?"


We are all shoved into metal boxes otherwise known as offices, and told that if we ‘behave’ we’ll get paid. If we don’t behave (start inventing anything worthwhile) then we’ll be unemployed. It’s annoying, we hate it, we can’t change it. Our company just came out with their first quarter profit of over 5% which is over 10 billion dollars. The same day we all got an email pretty much telling us that even though that’s okay, its not enough, and don’t get to comfortable in your positions. Basically I hate to say it but it’s not going to get any better.
The technology is out there to reduce gas prices. The problem is politics and high profit margins are what speaks, not the suffocated consumer. The truth is the consumer can complain as much as they want. It won’t help. We need the gas, we buy the gas. Look how much money the large companies with shares in high gas prices donate to political campaigns. That alone should be evidence enough for people, yet, its not.
In Israel gas prices are astronomical. They have been forever and yet people still drive. That is the opinion of the big boys that are setting these prices.
Gas prices will hit $5 a gallon.

Sorry for the bad news.

Critically Observant Jew said...

Also, the change is not instantaneous. For better or worse, look at ethanol. Not that many stations carry it. And research does go on. Check this out:

So when you do consider the length of Research and Development, as well as the installation of the infrastructure, then yes, it will take a while until the energy market is reformed.

Same for the solar system, the efficiency of which is still arguable.

As for the question "what were they thinking 4-10 years ago" - at that time, the prices weren't rising (that much). So it wasn't an emergency like it is now.

G said...

The oil is there, we know where it is, we just are not allowed to go get it because of secondary forces that keep getting in the way.

All that is required is someone with enough guts to bring the entire dynamic before the American public...I'd say two one hour installments on a main stream TV network. That should generate enough of a palaver to move things in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

How about some 'Victory gardens' like there were years ago ?

People grow their own food (biezras Hashem), get free exercise gardening (so cancel health club membership), fresher and better food, and a greater appreciation of it.

Re the cost of a slice of pizza - see

Anonymous said...

Prof. K - no recipe for homemade pizza ? No recommendation of frozen pizza ?

Is pizza considered a staple nowadays ? To me it's still only an occasional treat.

ProfK said...

As for the question "what were they thinking 4-10 years ago" - at that time, the prices weren't rising (that much). So it wasn't an emergency like it is now.

It goes back a lot longer than 4-10 years ago. Some oldsters will remember along with me that in either 1975 or 1976 the oil cartels raised their prices and gas was suddenly not only expensive but in relative short supply. Drivers were given assigned days that they could buy gas. Even number at the end of your licence plate was one set of days and odd numbers were another. You waited in long lines on your assigned day. Here we are some 33 years later and we still haven't woken up sufficiently to the problems of fuel supply.

Bas~Melech said...

You mentioned the effect on the kosher consumer in particular. I assume you meant the monetary effect. But consider for a moment what tends to happen to the whole course of Jewish history when the overall population starts to hurt... America is in the market for a scapegoat; I don't want to be a doomsday prophet but anyone want to take bets on who it'll be as this situation continues?

concernedjewgirl said...


"I'd say two one hour installments on a main stream TV network. That should generate enough of a palaver to move things in the right direction."

Keep dreaming my blogger friend. Who do you think would break this story. No anchor would want to because they know they would be out of a job very quickly.
People in America are so disillusioned as to actually believe that there is a freedom of the press. Do people really think that ‘we the people’ KNOW everything? Common, get real, it’s not going to happen.
Take a different example, health care in the United States. There are enough documentaries to make ones head spin and yet is there ANYTHING BEING DONE ABOUT IT? There is tons of press coverage on and about this topic and yet I don’t see or hear any reforms in the works.
I’m sorry but the people of the United States have to be more in control of their own actions. Other countries made it through when life got hard, United States is going to have to do the same. It’s not going to change, at least not any time real soon.

Again make no mistake $5 price of gas is coming to most of us real soon. In most areas of the country it’s already there and then some. When it will be the national average then it will get interesting.

Look at your life and start analyzing your budget now, don’t waste time thinking its not going to happen. Take it from an industry ‘insider’ it’ll happen.

G said...

Keep dreaming my blogger friend. Who do you think would break this story.

uh, yeah...hence the lead in about "someone with enough guts".

concernedjewgirl said...

You know a lot of people willing to lose their jobs and be discredited from finding others like it, being black balled from their professional arena?
When your answer will be yes, that is when 'someone' will break the story.

G said...

I am not exactly sure what you are arguing or what you think I am saying.

I merely stated that it would take some one with guts to go ahead and do it. Clearly these people are in short suply, otherwise it would not require anything "special" on their part.