Can I help fight inflation and still have fun?
Jun 29, 2022
Episode 703

Can I help fight inflation and still have fun?

One of our listeners wants to know.

It’s listener question time! A few weeks ago, Kai Ryssdal said consumers who want to help slow our inflated economy should stop spending money. But now one of our listeners wants to know if there’s anything they can do with their disposable income that helps the economy but is also fun. We offer some advice. Plus, the hosts take more of your questions on what role the dark web might play in a post-Roe era, and more than one question about gas prices!

Here’s everything we talked about today:

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Make Me Smart June 29, 2022 transcript


Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Kai Ryssdal: All right. Well, Carlos, let’s just go man. Come on. You want to sit here for another 45 seconds? Who are your, Charlton Thorp or what? Just…


Kimberly Adams: Hello, I’m Kimberly Adams. Welcome back to Make Me Smart where we make today make sense.


Kai Ryssdal: With occasional disparaging remarks about our very talented audio engineers. I’m Kai Ryssdal, thank you for joining us on Wednesday. It is Whaddya Wanna Know Wednesday. We’re gonna get smarter together by the questions y’all send us. And then the answer is that Kimberly and I either know or that Marissa and the amazing production staff have helped us figure out the answers to. That’s what we do.


Kimberly Adams: Yes, mainly the latter. But we’ll go with this. If you have a question about the economy or business or technology, go ahead and email us, or you can leave us a voicemail. Our number is 508-U-B-SMART.


Kai Ryssdal: Question number one today comes from Bill. He is in the great state of New York, and he writes this: With the recent Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, will there be an increase in abortion services being offered through the dark web? Over to you, oh host of Marketplace Tech.


Kimberly Adams: Oh, thank you Kai Ryssdal. So for people who maybe…


Kai Ryssdal: Sorry.


Kimberly Adams: Hey, I will meet you where you are. For people who may not know, the dark web usually refers to, just sections of the internet where all sorts of nasty things happen. Generally, it’s parts of the internet that you may not be able to find just through an easy search. It’ll exist on a secondary layer. It’s where a lot of criminal activity happens. And you know, often sometimes it’s where people go to do things on the internet that they don’t necessarily want other folks to know about. But loose terminology. Anyhow, will that happen? It’s probably too soon to tell. But you know, experts in general say when you ban or you make something illegal, you can expect a black market to pop up for it. I mean, the decades and decades before weed was widely decriminalized show that. You make it illegal, and people find a way around it. And so, you know, this is something that advocates for legal abortion services have said over and over again, that you can’t actually ban abortion, what you’re doing is making abortion illegal but people will still seek said abortions, and therefore, they end up getting them in the infamous back alleys or in ways that may not be as safe as doing it in a clinic or a doctor’s office. But putting – oops hit the microphone – but putting the dark web aside, we are already starting to see people offer abortion pills on social media platforms, which has prompted Instagram and Facebook to take down those posts. They said that it violated their policies against hawking pharmaceuticals on Facebook or Instagram. Although I was looking at it this morning, because I was talking to David Brancaccio about this for Marketplace Morning Report, and on the same page of Facebook’s policies about not selling pharmaceuticals or offering pharmaceuticals on their site, they also say you can’t offer the sale or exchange of firearms. And the AP and a couple of other news websites tested this and they found that if you were posting offering abortion pills, it would be taken down automatically, but not for guns and firearms. So there’s that. There are a number of abortion telehealth services that will send out abortion pills by mail, but, you know, there’s a concern amongst supporters of abortion rights, that those pills by mail will become the next battleground for access. And I was looking at the story in Government Executive. It looks like just today. Excuse me, the US Postal Service has said that it is up to mailers to comply with the state laws on abortion pills, and that the Postal Service will not proactively help states enforce laws prohibiting the use of abortion pills. So, you know, it’ll be really interesting to see if people are able to mail those around and what happens. So, if those telehealth services go away, people might turn to another place for access. Look, we’ve done a bunch of stories on Marketplace Tech about how tech firms and various sites are going to have to make some decisions going forward about what they’re going to do about user data, what they’re going to do about tracking, whether or not they’re going to comply with subpoenas and warrants in states where this is illegal, when there’s criminal prosecutions around this. And you know, it’s up in the air. Axios had a look at a lot of these privacy policies for tech firms, and they don’t really have a lot of options, they’ll probably have to hand things over unless they want to run afoul of the law in certain states.


Kai Ryssdal: I think the thing about this decision for me, other than the decision itself, is the unbelievable number of questions it has now raised, because this is such a different economy than it was in 1973. Technology, companies… I mean, there are just so many questions that, you know, you can’t look into the mind of Sam Alito and the five other members of the majority who decided, but my guess is they weren’t thinking through these kinds of things that now everyday people in companies and business people and everything are gonna have to consider. And it’s gonna be years and decades hashing this stuff out. Years and decades.


Kimberly Adams: I don’t know, I think they probably did think through this kind of stuff. But you know, if your moral convictions are that abortion is murder, you know, all that other stuff doesn’t matter. And, you know, this is my 15 years at an evangelical school speaking, I know these arguments very well. If everything is secondary, if you believe that this is murder, because you think there’s broad infanticide happening. To get back to your point about a very different economy, one of the interviews we did for Tech, I mean, modern IVF didn’t even really exist when Roe versus Wade happened. And so like, what happens if you have to destroy an embryo (if you want to destroy an embryo)? Or there’s not a viable embryo? Can you dispose of it? All these things are up in the air, but again, you know, if this is your issue, it’s worth it.


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, sure.


Kimberly Adams: Okay. All right. Here is a follow-up from a question that we answered in a previous Wednesday show.


Pat: Hello, this is Pat from New Jersey, you have told us Kai not to buy stuff if we want to help this economy recover. But if you do have disposable income, what’s the best thing we can do with it to help the economy and still have fun? One, should we buy services, entertainment, restaurants, housecleaning, home repair? Is that okay? Two, travel. If so, in the US or abroad? By car, by train, by plane? Or three, should we just be saving it? How boring! So looking forward to hearing your answer. Thank you so much for making us all smart. Bye now.


Kimberly Adams: Oh, there’s a lot in there. Good luck!


Kai Ryssdal: Can we just stop and knowledge the first thing on your list was the spa. I love that. Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat. So first of all, never listen to anything I say. It’s not… you know, I’m a guy who’s been involved with this for a long time, and these are my thoughts. Anyway. So look. So here’s the deal. Yes, I did say in response to a question, what should we do at an individual basis to help control inflation? The answer is stop spending money, because the traditional definition of inflation is too much money chasing too few goods, which is still what we have in this economy, okay? So that’s number one. On to your questions, how do we, if we have disposable income, what can we do with it to help the economy and still have fun? I’m gonna let you decide what fun is, Pat, but here’s the deal to your questions. Number one, should you buy services. I got news for you. Most of the inflation we’ve been seeing in this economy the last two years has been goods, inflation stuff literally stuck at ports not able to get to people and thus we don’t have enough goods. A lot of that inflation now is shifting toward the services sector. And I think we talked to Betsey Stevenson about this right, Kimberly? We talked to her about it like two three months ago when she said, look out, because the next thing that’s happening is service inflation. Yes. And it’s here. And so what is services inflation, right? Travel, airlines, hotel, restaurants, those things are all going up now. And they’re going to keep on going up because we are transitioning our spending. Remember, in the beginning of the pandemic, we all said, Okay, we’re not going to buy services, we’re not going to go to the spa. We’re not going to go on airline trips, we’re going to buy stuff for our houses. We’re gonna buy grills and refrigerators and ping pong tables and big screen TV… I’m such a not-a-spa guy. I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know.  I love it. I think it’s my influence on you. Okay. So that’s services, that’s travel. Here’s the catch though, because you asked number three, Pat, about saving. At the moment, if you save you will be losing money, because many of the original savings devices, whether they’re CDs, certificates of deposit, or regular checking or savings account, or almost anything you can do is not going to match inflation. So, if inflation is at 8.6% annually, which it is, and you buy a certificate of deposit for a year, you are not gonna get 8.6% to break even. You’re gonna get like a 10 percent, maybe a percent, and you’re going to lose money. And nobody wants to do that. So, if you want to have fun, spend judiciously, buy experiences, buy things you like, don’t go cray cray. And eventually inflation is going to come down, but individuals need to stop spending as much money. That’s what Jay Powell is trying to make happen. Individuals and companies, that’s where I am. But always, always, always, always consult your own financial advisor. Please, please, please.


Kimberly Adams: You can also donate money to a good cause that will make you feel good inside.


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah for sure. Totally true. Totally true. Yeah. Lots of things you can do that are not inflationary. Okay. Gayla in Tucson has a question about gas. Here’s what she wants to know: How much profit does a particular gas station make on a gallon of gas? Does it differ between giant chains or small mom-and-pop stations?


Kimberly Adams: You are in luck Gayla, because Kristin Schwab, our wonderful reporter, looked into this recently after Biden asked gas stations to do what they can to bring down gas prices. And she talked with Jeff Lenard, who’s vice president of the industry advocacy group, which is the National Association of Convenience Stores, given that convenience stores often attached to gas stations. He said that gas station owners set prices based on the cost of the next shipment of gas. And depending on the gas station, and then they’ll add a markup of something like 30 cents, but it does cost money to run and operate the gas station, and stuff is getting more expensive as we’ve been saying. So the average gas station makes something like 10 cents per gallon in profits. But funnily enough, for some gas stations, gas doesn’t make them any money. It’s a money loser. And they’re making more money getting you to come in and buy coffee and soda, lottery tickets and stuff like that. I mean, so they have a little bit of wiggle room, when it comes to setting prices, which is why maybe you’ll be driving down a road and you’ll see like a couple cents difference as they try to outbid each other. But you know, there are gas stations like in rural areas, or those like right off the freeway that maybe don’t have the same kind of competition, because they know that you’re just like want to get off the highway, get your gas and get right back on. And so they can ratchet up the price. As I mentioned, I recently had to fill up an SUVs gas tank, and there’s not a lot of gas stations in Washington, DC to begin with. And so I didn’t want to drive out of the city to get gas and I paid it and I wasn’t happy about it. But that’s what happens. Okay. Going to a slightly different question about gas, or really in this case, the federal gas tax.


Dale: Hey there economy mavens. This is Dale calling from North Carolina. One of the causes given for the current inflation is the money given to people by the federal government. If the federal gas tax is suspended, isn’t that effectively giving federal money to people, therefore fueling inflation?


Kai Ryssdal: Ding ding ding, go to the head of class… Look, first of all, I don’t know that the money in the American rescue plan, which is what you’re talking about, the Biden administration’s big stimulus and COVID relief plan of the beginning of the administration, did it contribute to inflation? Yes, that is not the cause of the current inflation, right? So of the 8.6%, maybe a percent, maybe a percent and a half, just so we’re talking about the same thing. But look, yes, federal gas tax is 18.5, 18.4 cents a gallon. And what the President wants Congress to do is to suspend the federal gas tax for 90 days expiring in September. There are some doubts about whether or not that is actually going to happen, but two things. Number one, yes, you’re right. If you make something less expensive, people are going to buy more of it, because incentives matter. And thus, perversely, what will happen if you make gasoline cheaper is that people will probably buy more of it, number one. Number two, it’s not entirely clear that that entire 18.4 cents is going to go to consumers. The way the gas market is structured, a lot of it might wind up with refiners, perhaps as much as half or a little bit more, might wind up with refiners. And given the pressure on companies now from some on the progressive side of the Democratic caucus against companies from corporate profits, that would not be a good thing for the Biden administration. So I think it’s really really tricky this idea of suspending a gas tax and thinking number one, it’s all going to go to consumers but number two, that is not going to fuel inflation farther it’s really really hard. And look, Biden’s stuck, right? He’s in a huge jam which he has very little ability to do anything about. Well.


Kimberly Adams: He said gas tax and fuel inflation, that’s great.


Kai Ryssdal: Sorry, sorry.


Kimberly Adams: No, that was great. I think you didn’t even notice, it was great. I seek pleasure in the small things, Kai. Small things. Alright, that’s it for us today. Thank you very much for listening and for your questions. These are all great, keep sending them in. We will be back tomorrow with more news and hopefully, for the love of God, some smiles.


Kai Ryssdal: Let’s hope so. In the meanwhile please keep sending us your questions or leave us a voicemail 508-U-B-SMART, is how you can do that if you want to get to us.


Kimberly Adams: Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera. Olivia Zhao was our intern, Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter.


Kai Ryssdal: Juan Carlos Torrado engineered the program today. Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music. The Senior Producer of this podcast is Bridget Bodnar.

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