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Innumeracy 101


CNN ran a story yesterday about an average American family of 11 that has seen its grocery bill explode because prices have increased by 30% since June. Thus a gallon of milk. which cost $1.99 then, now costs $2.79, which when you buy 12 gallons of milk per week adds up to . . . let’s see three carry the seven . . . about an extra $23 billion per year in milk expenses alone for the average American family, which is more than the entire GDP of China.

Watch and learn:

Of course the (((Coastal Elites))) made a lot of fun of all this trouble in the heartland, because they don’t understand that adopting seven kids after you’ve popped out two via the standard biological method and then ensuring that all of them drink several tall cold glasses of milk per day as G-d intended is totally normal behavior in Flyover, home of the real Americans who are getting rocked by 30% inflation since June:

Now, I should be transparent. I grew up a Jewish kid in New York City, a cultural milieu where the idea of drinking a tall glass of milk at the table with dinner is simply considered aberrant behavior, the sort of thing that will draw stares and whispers from strangers. 

I don’t want to violate any norms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but do people anywhere in these United States regularly drink a tall glass of milk at the table with dinner, because that seems pretty super freaky to me.

Since we’re getting all ethnographic, I drank an enormous amount of milk as a child and teenager, although never with dinner — yuck — and then just stopped suddenly sometime in my 20s. I don’t think I’ve had a glass of milk in 30 years now, and indeed the whole idea of drinking one makes me queasy. You know what was good though? Those Archway Sugar Cookies that I haven’t seen in decades, especially if you popped one in the microwave for about 12 seconds first, so that all the chemical flavor came to the fore, with a nice cold glass of milk to wash it down.

Where was I? Ah yes, five bees to a quarter . . . One thing that struck me when I was excavating the historiography of Harry Truman’s finances is that even highly educated and intelligent people often turn into complete idiots when dealing with nominal dollar figures. So for instance good ‘ol Harry was getting paid about a kagillion dollars per year when he was president and had no expenses and then signed a contract to sell his memoirs for about one third of all the money in the world 17 seconds after he was out of the White House, but according to David McCullough he still had to take out a personal bank loan to tide him over when he moved back to Independence! Because you know how expensive everything is getting these days. (Side note: an LGM commenter pointed out that Chicago’s song Harry Truman, which hit #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1975, sounds like a pastiche of Randy Newman. This is totally true and has ruined the song for me so thanks a lot).

So unfortunately I need to pause here to point out that all the dollar figures in the CNN story are totally made up and have zero relationship to anything in the real world:

CNN’s segment was absolute trash for reasons completely unrelated to the amount of 2 percent this family purchases. First, it gives a completely misleading impression of the severity of the inflation America is seeing right now—for milk, groceries, and pretty much everything else. (Also, food prices can generally be a bit volatile and give a misleading impression of overall inflation.) The average price of milk has not been $1.99 in the country in quite literally decades. In January of this year, before inflation really kicked in, the lowest average price in any of the 31 major cities tracked by the Department of Agriculture was $2.52 a gallon. It also hasn’t gotten that much more expensive: Year over year, the price of fresh whole milk has only increased by 3.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks consumer prices. So unless the Stotlers have started buying organic, I don’t really know what’s going on with their dairy budget. Same goes for most of the rest of the supermarket: While the family suggests its weekly grocery budget has jumped from between $150 and $200 all the way up to $310, in real life food prices have risen 4.5 percent.

The piece reaches a sort of platonic state of cable news parody when the family matriarch claims that a dollar in June is worth 70 cents today, as if the United States had actually entered a state of hyperinflation. (In reality, CPI is up 5.4 percent year over year.) Somehow, this goes unchallenged. To make matters worse, it somehow neglects to mention that a family with nine would be eligible for thousands of dollars per month in Child Tax Credit payments thanks to President Biden’s relief legislation, more than enough to cover the extra expense of milk.

Well that’s like just your opinion, man.

Seriously, sort of, I do wonder how a segment like this, which takes weeks to set up, film, edit, etc., manages to get on the air without somebody somewhere in the process pointing out that the numbers in it are totally imaginary?

I blame rap music and video games.

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