GLENN: Load Up the Pantry is the name of the piece in The Wall Street Journal by Brett Arends. Load Up the Pantry. I don't want to alarm anybody but maybe it's time for Americans to start stockpiling food. This is not a drill. You've seen the TV footage of food riots in parts of the developing world and, yes, they are a long way from the U.S. but most food stuffs operate in the global market. When it comes to wheat -- when the cost of wheat soars in Asia, it will do the same here. Reality, food prices are already rising here much faster than returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in the bank or money market fund. There are some very good reasons to believe prices on the shelves are about to start rising a lot faster.
Stu, I'm not crazy.
STU: I would definitely not say that.
GLENN: This is the argument that I -- this is the argument I've been making!
STU: Well, the person who wrote it might not be crazy but that doesn't make you not crazy.
GLENN: If I'm crazy, he's crazy. Brett's on the phone. Brett?
ARENDS: Hey, good to be here.
GLENN: Are you crazy?
ARENDS: I don't think so.
GLENN: Oh, you've got an English accent.
ARENDS: I was born in Poughkeepsie, New York of all places but I did live over in England for a long time.
GLENN: That's not a New York accent.
ARENDS: It's not really a Poughkeepsie accent, I'll grant you that.
GLENN: That's sweet, man. Does it work with the chicks?
ARENDS: I'm married and my wife is English. So I suppose up to a point.
GLENN: There is nothing -- I bet English women, are they turned on by English accents?
ARENDS: I don't think so actually. I think they are turned on by American accents.
GLENN: I'm in the wrong country.
ARENDS: Or French accents.
GLENN: Okay. So here's the thing. I read your article and I've been saying for a while now, I mean, the guys on my show made fun of me, what was it, six, eight months ago when I said you know what the best thing you can do, the easiest thing you can do is when you see a sale on coats or shoes for your kids and you know you're going to have to buy them next year, buy them because of inflation.
ARENDS: No kidding, yeah. It's -- people are still reluctant to get their head around this. I think it's been so long since we had a lot of inflation. Some of us remember the Seventies. But it's been so long that people just still can't get their head around this and I compared it in the article. I said, think about gasoline. I remember only a few years ago people were -- you know, I was writing articles at the time for a paper in New England. People complaining because gasoline was up to $2 a gallon and they were -- you know, they were saying, well, I hope it's going to come back down soon. And, you know, people really, it's going to take a while before people really get their head around the fact that a lot of things -- the era when things were cheap and got cheaper is coming to an end or has ended and this is true for a lot of things. And the official inflation figures are somewhat misleading because, you know, essentially the way they calculate it is they assume you spend X amount of your money on, you know, X-Boxes and personal computers and iPhones which fall in price and so that helps you offset the cost of the fact that your food and clothing and stuff is going to get more expensive.
GLENN: Right. But it's not only that. They also -- I mean, this is one of my favorite things that they do. They also look at food stuffs. And for instance, let's say filet mignon goes up in price.
GLENN: And so you stop buying filet mignon but you buy hamburger. The government doesn't take into account that there's inflation because they're like, what, you are still getting meat.
ARENDS: That's exactly right and I've written a number of columns about this. In fact, what is very interesting is there is an economist that has made a number of changes to the way they calculate inflation figures over the last 20 years and an economist has sat down and worked out what the official inflation figures would look like if we still calculated them in the same way we did when Jimmy Carter was President. And guess what. Inflation would look pretty much the way it looked when Jimmy Carter was President.
ARENDS: It would be about 10%.
GLENN: I actually believe on TV tonight I think we have not only you but I think we have that economist and he just did a recent calculation for us and it is now 11%. Inflation is 11%.
ARENDS: And I sat down with the head of the Boston Fed a few years ago and I said, is this guy correct or is this guy crazy? And she said, oh, he's correct. He's correct, but then she defended and she made a reasonable case for why they had changed the way they calculated it and they were not crazy and while conspiracy theorists may fear conspiracy, there were rationales for doing it. But what the point is is that when you are comparing like for like, people say, oh, well, inflation is a thing of the past, no, it isn't. If we counted inflation the way we did in 1978, '79, it wouldn't look too different today.
GLENN: What were the rationales?
ARENDS: Oh, the rationales, there were a number of things to do with, for example, if a computer, you know, a laptop today cost $1,000 and a laptop two years ago cost $1,000 but today's laptop does a lot more stuff, shouldn't you basically consider that you're getting much more computer for the same amount of money. You know, it's an argument for economists and mathematicians, it's probably enough to send your listeners to sleep because it will send me to sleep. Whether there's ulterior motives behind it is another matter. The important thing is that if we counted inflation today the way we counted it 30 years ago, it would be -- the official data would be a lot higher.
GLENN: Okay. The official data says now that the food inflation for the average American household running at 4.5% a year.
GLENN: So if you get the standard, you know, 3% raise.
GLENN: You know, your life is changed here. So your article was basically what I've been saying. You know, it doesn't -- you could store up food for a hurricane or a natural disaster, you could store it up because the aliens are coming and I'm burying my gold in the back.
GLENN: Or you could store it because it's a good investment.
ARENDS: Listen, let me be very clear what I'm saying here. They had me on a TV channel last week and I was -- the other person was a survivalist from, quote, an undisclosed location. This is not what I'm talking about. It may make sense for a variety of reasons but what I am saying is very simple. A number of the items that your family, a typical family is going to live on, things like, you know, spaghetti, dried spaghetti, cans of tuna fish, cans of soup, this kind of stuff, is rising in many cases by 5 or even 10% a year and there's no particular reason to think that's going to fall. In fact, it's much more like -- that rate of inflation is likely to increase. On the other hand you are keeping your money in the bank and you are earning 3% before tax if you are lucky. Particularly, you know, as a result of the subprime and all the rest of it, interest rates have come down. You are losing money in a savings account. You are falling behind inflation. You know, you get 3% before taxes, you are getting 2% maybe after tax and yet the things you need to buy have just gone up by 10%. You are running to catch the bus and the bus is speeding up.
So in this situation it makes sense, where you can, to prebuy. Now, you can't pay for next year's hair cuts today but what you can do is you can buy, you know, buy your spaghetti in bulk, you can buy tuna fish, you can buy cans of soup. Things that will keep, things that will store easily, you can buy those in bulk which itself makes sense because you get it cheaper. But you can buy it and you store it and essentially you are saving -- you are locking in a pretty good return on your money because you are saving money.
GLENN: You know, here's the -- this is the only time that excuse would ever work with my wife, too. I've tried to tell her, you know, sales on cars and everything else and she's like, we're not saving money. We're saving money by not buying it.
GLENN: End of the conversation. This time it will work, honey, we're saving money.
ARENDS: These are things that you're going to have to buy.
GLENN: You're going to have to have, right. Here's the way that I look at it and I don't understand why other people don't. We go to Costco anyway. I mean, we go to B.J.'s. We buy our food in bulk at B.J.'s because when you buy it in bulk, it's cheaper. And so you buy the -- I mean, I just ate the cornflakes out of the weekend out of the big huge box where, you know, I didn't have the box anymore. I had to just have the bag on the table because we buy them in bulk like that. So we have them there. All we're suggesting is that you buy more bulk than you normally buy if you're buying bulk.
ARENDS: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.
GLENN: So why is it crazy?
ARENDS: I have no idea. There's a number -- I mean, what I find very interesting, a number of people just went nuts last week, oh, you're going to cause -- oh, you're adding to a panic. Americans are not panicking, Americans are not rioting.
GLENN: That's stupid.
ARENDS: Yeah, the only people -- I do think there's a lot of people in the media who just do not seem to have a very high opinion of ordinary people.
ARENDS: The only people racing down to Costco screaming oh, my God, at the top of their voice are news crews looking for nonexistent food riots. But the point is, you know, it is sound, you know, household finance to make sure that you, you know, buy in bulk and to prebuy. And the fact is that you are -- you know, you are taking money out of an account that's earning 2% after tax and you are buying food that would otherwise go up 10%. So it sounds -- I think people still have difficulty getting their head around an inflationary environment and I think there is -- you know, we had 20, 25 years maybe, the Eighties and the Nineties were pretty good, inflation came down, a lot of things were cheap, gasoline was cheap and people got used to an environment where things got cheaper and cheaper. And the fact is the economics, the big picture suggests that food is going to get more and more expensive because it's essentially very similar to what happened -- what has happened to oil, which is that you have hundreds of millions of people across Asia moving from a peasant economy to a middle class industrial economy every year. These people are joining the middle class. Not only do they want to heat their homes in winter and air-condition them in summer, not only do they want to drive cars instead of bicycles, they want to eat better food and they want to eat, ironically the interesting thing is they want to eat more beef and that actually, the beef then, the cattle need an awful lot of grain.
ARENDS: And that puts the pressure on grain prices. At the same time, of course, we have the whole biofuel thing which has just come at the worst possible time and that is putting further upward pressure on these prices. The fact is, you know, things like bread or rice in supermarkets may have gone up by, you know, 10% a year the last couple of years. But the raw materials that go into them, the grain and the rice, the rice itself have doubled or tripled on international markets because of all that pressure. And for a while the big food companies have been -- I hate to use the phrase but they've been eating the higher costs. They've been taking the higher costs on the chin. But that's not going to last.
GLENN: That's not going to last.
ARENDS: They are going to have to pass those on to consumers.
GLENN: Especially with just the cost in trucking it now.
GLENN: With oil, you know, I don't think America really -- I think those who have been paying attention know what's coming.
GLENN: And it ain't pretty.
ARENDS: But people look, at some point people are going to start rethinking how they manage their family finances and eventually, eventually it will be the last thing is actually people in Washington, I suspect, will actually sort of understand what's going on.
ARENDS: But families, we've had 20 years of easy credit and easy times and people have to really start rethinking how they manage their own finances in a number of ways, and one of them is, you know, being aware of inflation and being aware that keeping your money in a savings account at this point isn't making any sense. You are losing money. You are losing ground. And prebuying food is a very sensible thing to do. No reason to be crazy and no reason to panic but it's certainly a sensible thing to do in our household budget.
GLENN: Brett Arends, we will see you tonight on TV. Thank you so much, sir.
ARENDS: My pleasure.
GLENN: You bet. Bye-bye. From the Wall Street Journal, load up the pantry is the name of the article.