Thursday, March 14, 2024






        When it comes to the causes of the inflation that continues to plague California households, perhaps Walt Kelly’s old comic strip swamp possum Pogo said it best: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”


        Kelly, of course, bowdlerized the line from War of 1812 U.S. Naval Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s report to a superior after defeating the British Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”


       Pogo’s variation on that has proven as telling over the decades since Kelly gave him the line describing people’s persistent tendency to cause problems for themselves.


       So it is today with inflation, among other issues. Yes, the Federal Reserve tells us inflation is not as severe as a year or so ago, when gasoline prices rose by $2 per gallon over two days in February 2023.


        But the price in California still hovers well above $4, in part because the state has yet to enforce its eight-month-old law allowing it to charge penalties against price-gouging oil companies. That’s true everywhere in California, where prices are more than $1 dollar per gallon higher than the national average, even though state taxes amount to far less than that.


        As long as the state Energy Commission doesn’t act to reel in those companies, one significant element of inflation will remain untouched. And virtually no one today is pressuring the commission to act.


        We are also at least partly at fault for fast-rising insurance prices, both for vehicles and real estate. We re-elected Ricardo Lara insurance commissioner in 2022 despite his well-publicized footsie games with insurance company campaign donations.


        That’s another inflation element. We also elected the legislators who raised the minimum wage to $16 an hour effective Jan. 1, with minimum hourly pay for health care workers set to rise to $23 on June 1. We elected the governor who signed off on those and we rejected by a large margin an effort to recall him.


        It’s hard to see how inflation can be avoided when minimum wages constantly rise. Some restaurants responded to their need to pay dishwashers more than before by listing a separate “minimum wage” surcharge with each of their menu items, letting customers know exactly why they’re now paying more than before.


        That same governor appointed all five Public Utility Commission members, the folks who continually raise electricity and natural gas rates, a tax that’s not formally called by that name. But utility rates have all the earmarks of taxes: We must pay up, or there will be severe consequences.


        We also voted twice against propositions for statewide rent controls. One result is that rents are staying high despite the myriad vacancies among newly-built market-rate apartments. Meanwhile, there are waiting lists for formally designated affordable units in many places.


        Even though he had nothing to do with any of these key inflationary factors, all of which contribute to the costs of food, fuel, entertainment tickets and just about everything else, it’s common to blame President Biden for all of it.


If there’s one bright spot in this, it is the likelihood that gasoline prices won’t go much higher in the immediate future. That’s partly because of the state law allowing penalties for gouging and also because Biden turned on the spigots of the National Petroleum Reserve, knocking down some worldwide wholesale oil prices. At the same time, he’s brought domestic oil production to record levels, even while once-and-future rival Donald Trump shouts “drill, drill, drill,” from the sidelines as he admits to wanting to be a dictator, but “only for Day 1.”



The bottom line on all this is clear. If we are suckered into blaming inflation on Biden, we will be ignoring our own responsibility for much of it. Which would mean we are ignoring the obvious reality that when it comes to inflation, Pogo was once again correct that “We have met the enemy and he is us.”      


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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