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Humble Pie, Served Good and Hard

“Kate Humble: We don't value food because it's not expensive enough,” screamed a headline at the far left UK Guardian, which was catnip to the Drudge Report. I know nothing of Humble’s politics, as I had never heard of her before the Drudge link. But I’m assuming if the Guardian is writing favorably about her, and she’s employed as a show host by the far left and equally reactionary BBC, she shares their worldview, while staring out upon, as the Guardian notes, “her 117-acre former council farm in Trellech, Monmouth, which she runs with her TV director husband Ludo Graham.”

In response to her Guardian profile, blogger Christopher Fountain writes, “I’m not exactly sure of the value of 117 acres of farmland in England, nor what the combined salaries of a TV director and a ‘television personality’ amount to, but I’m fairly certain that Miss Humble doesn’t live on the same income as the great unwashed she demands pay up. Isn’t it always that way?”

Yes indeed. And she’s about to get her way, at least in the US. “Alert shoppers are accustomed to watching food prices go up and down. But a string of forces—from droughts to diseases—is raising the cost of a trip to the grocery store at a rapid clip,” CNBC reported on Saturday, adding that “it looks like it will be a while before the price pressure eases:”

Consumers are also coping with higher costs beyond their supermarket shopping cart. After a brutal winter in much of the country kept shoppers home, a pickup in demand has sent clothing and used car prices higher in March.

Rents are also going up in most of the country, up 2.7 percent in the latest 12-months, a pace not seen since the housing market collapsed in 2007. Medical costs are also rising.

Because food prices are typically more volatile than other consumer costs, economists and policy makers at the Federal Reserve usually ignore them when looking at the so-called "core rate" of inflation. But after a long period of inflation running less than 2 percent a year, the latest surge in prices bears closer watching, according to Capital Insight senior economist Paul Dales.

"We suspect that core inflation will rise to 2 percent this year and beyond it next year, which would catch the Fed off guard," he wrote in a recent note to clients.

Humble’s quote about food not being “expensive enough” sums up the 21st century state of the increasingly paradoxically named ideology that calls itself “Progressivism” rather well.

As Fred Siegel wrote in his new book, The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class, “The best short credo of liberalism came from the pen of the once canonical left-wing literary historian Vernon Parrington in the late 1920s. ‘Rid society of the dictatorship of the middle class,’ Parrington insisted, referring to both democracy and capitalism, ‘and the artist and the scientist will erect in America a civilization that may become, what civilization was in earlier days, a thing to be respected.’”

But those politicians who espoused liberal and progressive values in the first 65 years of the 20th century at least knew enough that if they wanted to get elected, they needed to pay lip service to ideas that would benefit the working man and in theory, make his life easier. Sure, it was mostly nonsense, but at least, unlike “progressive” intellectuals, they weren’t overtly punitive towards the working class. Today, their modern counterparts publicly espouse the notion of driving up prices. Barack Obama, running for the presidency in January of 2008, blurted out to the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle that he wanted to bankrupt coal companies and “under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” Well gee, thanks for that one, Barry.

At the end of 2008, at the peak of his popularity, comfortably ensconced in the command chair of the mighty Office of the President Elect, Mr. Obama deigned to grant an interview with Tom Brokaw of NBC. Brokaw begged the president elect to increase gas taxes, driving those prices up as well. (Gee, thanks for looking out for us, Tom.)  And “unexpectedly” moving in unison, as if in lockstep (paranoid folly, I know), the New York Times, the Washington Post and eventually CNN all agreed!  Why yes, it would be a good thing if the American people paid more for their gasoline. Perhaps these scrappy, populist hardscrabble journalists were simply echoing the thoughts of Steven Chu, who would become Obama’s “energy” secretary who gave the game away to the Wall Street Journal in September of that year, when he openly told them that “Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”

They were followed by several wealthy members of the left who espoused higher taxes -- but curiously, when confronted about paying more themselves, were rather less sanguine about the notion:

As Joel Kotkin noted this weekend in the Orange County Register, when it comes to taxes, “Clearly, something needs to change, and, ironically, one wonders where the class warriors of the Left are on this. They have become increasingly bold (or honest) in stating that we should continue raising taxes on the middle and upper-middle classes, as a recent New Republic piece suggests, but seem less than vehement about equalizing taxes on capital gains and other income.”

Meanwhile, here in the Northern California Bay Area, as Thomas Sowell wrote in 2005, when it comes to our own local skyrocketing home prices, “The people who vote on the laws which severely restrict building, create costly bureaucratic delays, and impose arbitrary planning commission notions will not have to pay a dime toward the huge costs being imposed on anyone trying to build anything in the San Francisco Bay area. Newcomers get stuck with those costs.”

The result are Levittown-style one-story ranchers that can sell upwards of $750,000. “One of the middle-class communities in the county is Foster City, a planned community built back in the 1960s. When the first homes went on sale there in 1963, you could buy a three-bedroom house for as little as $22,000. If you wanted something bigger or more fancy, or in a more scenic location, you could still get it for under $50,000,” Sowell writes. “Today, the average price of a home in Foster City is $1.2 million.”

The left’s “solution?” Build lots and lots of high-density apartment complexes so dense that THX-1138 would feel claustrophobic from the amount of neighbors living cheek-to-jowl next to him.

And then there's Obamacare, where the famous rejoinder, "if healthcare is expensive now, just wait until it's free" is being played out on a daily basis, for millions of Americans to see. And if you don't like it -- tough, says MSNBC's resident uber-marxist, Melissa Harris-Perry:

You know — Democrats. You know, the same party that passed and defended and implemented the most sweeping social policy in decades, who can say that millions of people now have affordable health insurance that they didn’t have before. And they’re not even owning it. No confidence, no swagger. No, “Yeah, you can’t keep your crappy plans. Just deal with that!”

Please, run with that approach this fall, Democrats. Run with it hard.

And now we have someone espousing higher food prices. Somewhere just offstage, Norman Borlaug (1914-2009) must be weeping:

In the late 1960s, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in which billions would perish. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over," biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. "In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Ehrlich also said, "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971." He insisted that "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980."

* * * * * * * *

Contrary to Ehrlich's bold pronouncements, hundreds of millions didn't die in massive famines. India fed far more than 200 million more people, and it was close enough to self-sufficiency in food production by 1971 that Ehrlich discreetly omitted his prediction about that from later editions of The Population Bomb. The last four decades have seen a "progress explosion" that has handily outmatched any "population explosion."

Borlaug, who unfortunately is far less well-known than doom-sayer Ehrlich, is responsible for much of the progress humanity has made against hunger. Despite occasional local famines caused by armed conflicts or political mischief, food is more abundant and cheaper today than ever before in history, due in large part to the work of Borlaug and his colleagues.

Evidently, Kate Humble presumably thinks this was all a terrible mistake. And as the examples above highlight, she’s not alone amongst the reactionary left, who seek to give to the middle class good and hard, as Mencken would say.

Related: “Puerto Rican peanut butter" and "The tyranny of the organic mommy mafia."