Inflation is an issue of real concern to many Americans. It’s also a chance for Democrats to name and shame price-gougers

Inflation is rapidly becoming a problem for the Democratic party and President Joe Biden. They need to get a grip on it before it imperils their wider agenda and sinks their chances of keeping control of Congress in the midterm elections next year. As they think about how to address it, one thing is certain: what they’ve been doing so far isn’t working. A recent poll found that two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how Biden is handling inflation, and the same number consider the issue “very important” in their evaluations of his presidency. Among those Americans concerned about the state of the economy, nearly nine in 10 ranked inflation as a reason why. Clearly something has to change.

But inflation, a complicated product of economics and mass psychology, is also devilishly difficult to understand, and even more difficult to control. Presidents have few tools to tame it, and the ones they do have can backfire. The inflation of the 1970s crippled Gerald Ford’s presidency and was doing the same to Jimmy Carter until he opted for an extreme cure – installing a chair of the Federal Reserve who dramatically raised interest rates, stopping inflation but also plunging the economy into a deep recession which handed the White House to Ronald Reagan. These experiences left inflation with a reputation as a presidency-killer, with either the disease itself or the medicine taken to combat it ultimately killing the patient.

Andrew Gawthorpe is a historian of the United States at Leiden University, and host of the podcast America Explained

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