Last week I paid over $90 for an oil change. As someone who used to change his own oil, the inflation-fueled sticker shock took a minute to comprehend.
Was my mechanic price gouging? Was I the victim of a nefarious plot by Dark Brandon, the alter-ego of President Joe Biden? What led to near triple-digit oil changes?
A couple calls confirmed that I got a “fair” price. Both my local dealership and Grease Monkey confirmed that they charged between $70 and $100, depending on the type of oil. Given that I use a full synthetic variety, it would have been on the high end.
As for Biden, while it seems requisite for every Republican at every level to blame Biden in every speech, inflation is obviously far more complicated. The set of factors causing inflation cannot be boiled down to one person’s policy choices — or one political party, for that matter.
It is rather the aggregated effect of multiple global factors.
The COVID pandemic interrupted supply chains that can take months and years to recover. Disruptions along the entire chain, from workers harvesting raw materials to stevedores unloading containers on docks, cause delays and backups that keep supply low and costs high.
While the influx from stimulus checks helped to keep many Americans afloat during the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, they injected more money into the economy and artificially shifted the supply and demand curve.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine led to sanctions and stoppages in the former’s export of oil and gas and the latter’s shipments of grain. The double whammy has caused price spikes at both gas pumps and in grocery stores.
Price-gouging has combined with higher wages, and the subsequent increased costs passed on to consumers, to create skyrocketing prices in everything from used cars to hospital services to cereals and bakery products.
Even McDonald’s shifted away from its long-standing $1 drinks (mercifully, you can, as always, get a hot dog and soda for $1.50 at Costco).
The reality that inflation is a byproduct of many factors will not stop Republicans from relentlessly attacking Biden, and by proxy, every Democrat on any ballot. People are worried and scared and angry when they open their pocketbooks. It is exactly the environment the modern GOP exploits with aplomb.
Any variance from that message leads to paths more treacherous than the knife edge of Capitol Peak. For example, in a post-Roe v. Wade world, even bright red Kansas soundly rejected increased abortion restrictions when given the choice. Colorado Republicans must thank their lucky stars that Democrats chose a legislative path to re-affirming the state’s commitment to reproductive health. If the option had been on the ballot in November, it would have swamped GOP candidates at every level.
Yet the rallying cry around inflation may be cracking just as campaigns enter the final stretch. Inflation leveled off in July for the first time in months. That could be an indicator that inflation, if not prices, will drop over the coming months.
The curb has been led by plummeting gas prices. Once nearly $5 per gallon on average across the country (still comparatively cheap on a global scale), a steady two-month decline has brought the number below $4 per gallon. Colorado is closing in on the $3.64 average from a year ago.
Combined with the historic seasonal post-summer drop seen at pumps and by Halloween, Republicans could suddenly find themselves screaming about a problem that most voters view moving in the right direction. It is a gamble that could backfire dramatically.
I will be due for another oil change just about the time I am set to drop off my November ballot. What both look like will depend on what happens with inflation in the interim.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq