In my youth, I learned what I thought were important lessons about inflation- both economic and air-related.
Bike racers used tubular (“sew-up”) tires. The hoi polloi used clinchers. Tubulars had narrower cross sections and could be run at higher pressures. High pressure and narrow cross-section were said to decrease rolling resistance. It was all about the science. Wanna-bees rode tubulars. Touring and commuting cyclists rode clinchers. Being half-fast, I rode clinchers. In fact, the deciding factor between two bikes when I was shopping in 1974 was the wheel and tire combination.
Rim and bead technology improved. They made clinchers that could run at 120 PSI (~8.25 bar). Clinchers got skinnier. I once had some nominally 700 x 18c. Even racers started running clinchers.
Now the science says lower pressure and wider cross section equals lower rolling resistance – or does it? Most current research seems to point to wider being better. As for inflation pressure, claims vary widely. Fashion now dictates 28 or 32c. Conveniently, this also means re-designing bike frames for increased tire clearance, so if you want to be fashionable, you need a new bike.
I just read an article on rolling resistance that compared the same tire in 23, 25, 28, and 32c widths at 60, 80, 100, and 120 PSI. They found that the widest tire (32c) at the highest inflation pressure (120 PSI) yielded the lowest rolling resistance. Is wider than that even better? Where does it end? (Most articles seem to concede that at some point the increased weight and air resistance of a larger tire will offset the savings in rolling resistance. I haven’t found anyone citing evidence – maybe because the equivalent tires don’t exist that much wider and they are not sure that evidence with different tires will translate.) They also tested and rated the best tires in various configurations – with tubes, tubeless, and tubular – rated as “best all around”, “fastest”, “most puncture-resistant”, and “best low cost”. I won’t list their results, as I can’t vouch for them, but you can follow the links. I will say I feel vindicated, as they picked the tires I ride. Do you need to buy a new bike to fit 32c tires? Only if you race bikes for a living and someone else pays for them. Will you notice the difference between 7.8 watts of rolling resistance and 8.5 watts (the difference between the 32c and 23c sizes of the Continental Grand Prix 5000)? Probably not, unless you’re a time trialist. Definitely not, if you’re half-fast.
As for the other type of inflation, I was taught in economics class that inflation was a spiral (actually a helix) caused by rising prices and rising wages, each feeding the other. That theory appears to blame each component equally. The real world seldom looks like that, especially since union membership has declined drastically. (For example, union membership in WI was 34% in 1964 and 11.6% in 2014. Even TX, never a union stronghold, dropped from 13.5% to 4.9% over the same 50 year period.)
We are currently being sold a bill of goods; that inflation is the fault of supply chain issues, or “the great resignation”, or increasing the minimum wage, or it’s all Joe Biden’s fault.
Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and current editor of The Hightower Lowdown has done some searching. He provides a few interesting examples. The worldwide diaper trade is controlled by two companies – Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark together hold an 80% market share. In April, 2020 P&G announced that COVID-driven production cost increases were forcing it to raise its prices. Its quarterly profit was $3.8 billion. Six months later the quarterly profit was >$5 billion and they bought back $3 billion of their own stock, partly to cash in on those profits and partly to reward top execs. My econ class taught me that Kimberly-Clark could undercut P&G and make money. But did they? No, they raised their prices at the same time – because they could.
Beef prices went up 21% in 2021. Is that because farmers made more money? Is it because of shortages? No. 85% of the US beef market is controlled by 4 companies. They get to set the price at which they buy beef. If you, the farmer, don’t want to sell to them, good luck. While retail beef prices rose, the price paid to farmers fell. Profits to the big 4 rose by 300%.
US corporate profits in the 4th quarter of 2019 were $2.4 trillion. Two years later (3rd quarter 2021), they were up to $2.9 trillion. At their worst during the pandemic, they were $1.9 trillion. (from statista.com) As a whole, US corporations continued to make money during the pandemic. As the rest of us hope to recover, they plan to profit even more handsomely. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. That is not an accident.
Hightower always urges us to do something, not just feel depressed, about the news he presents. Here are his suggestions from this article:
Study up–and pitch in. You’re not likely to read about the devastating effects of monopoly from your local, hedge-fund owned newspaper, but a few taps on a keyboard will take you to a wealth of resources. Our favorites include Yale’s Thurman Arnold Project (som.yale.edu/centers/thurman-arnold-project-at-yale), the Roosevelt Institute (rooseveltinstitute.org), and The Groundwork Collaborative (groundworkcollaborative.org).
Food system monopoly is particularly distasteful, squeezing both growers and eaters. The Family Farm Action Alliance (farmaction.us) inspired President Biden’s billion-dollar plan to expand independent meat processing capacity and re-inject competition into those markets.
The National Farmers Union (nfu.org) has launched a “Fairness for Farmers” campaign, “fighting for stronger enforcement of antitrust laws and breaking up . . . corporate monopolies.”
The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (r-calfusa.com) is pushing for a federal “50/14 Spot Market Protection Bill” aimed at stopping the sell-now, we’ll-dictate-your-price-later BS that Brazilian meat Goliath JBS pulled with rancher Steve Charter.
And the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (morural.org)–founded with a grant from the first Farm Aid!–aims to help family farmers not only battle corporate predators, but also offer assistance with sustainable farming practices, accessible rural healthcare, and more.