Stephen Colbert's clean conscience

"I'm willing to pay.  I'm willing to pay $4 a gallon.  Hell, I'll pay $15 a gallon because I drive a Tesla."

Late show host Stephen Colbert (I'm hesitant to identify him as an actual comedian rather than a political commentator) quipped that this is all for the sake of a "clean conscience" with regard to embargos against Russia.  The problem is that late-night comedy is so politically polarizing, and has not been funny for years that we do not know if anyone makes actual jokes anymore.  Unfortunately, in Colbert's world, the joke is always on the poor and middle class, as evidenced by the laughs of his studio audience.

Colbert has a clean conscience, just not for middle- and working-class Americans.

Since the injection of over $1 trillion in 2020, Americans continue to experience rising inflation, which ultimately affects the middle and lower classes of America.  According to some studies, only one out of three American households needed the stimulus money.  What happened to the other two out of three?  That money paid off debt, got pocketed, or created an opportunity for Gen Z hobbyist investors to utilize the Robinhood investing app to make tech stocks and the stock market the stuff of dreams.

Ultimately, the beneficence by our elected officials accelerated the ever-present reality of inflation.  We commonly know inflation to be "too many dollars chasing too few goods."  This means there is more money in the economy than there is the activity of buying things.  However, a curious thing happened on the way to COVID recovery.  Folks began working from home.  They had $1,200 in their pocket and other savings, so it was time to roll on down to the Home Depot and do all the projects.  Like...all the projects.

These events also remind us of the issue of scarcity. Whether you live under capitalism, socialism, or communism, all these economies (and yes, communism is an economy) must contend with how to get scarce resources to those who can afford or need or can pay for the scarce resources.  Whichever economy you live in, scarcity is a driver of economic function.  It costs money to move goods from one place to another.  Products change hands.  Oil companies drill for oil.  Oil is then transported to refineries where oil is refined.  Oil is then transported to places like the fuel pump.  Not everyone can afford prices at the fuel pump because of inflation and because of scarcity.

Stephen Colbert can, though.  He's even willing to remind you of how well he can pay at the pump.  The problem is, the joke is at the expense of you, me, and the poor of America.  Just remember, though, he has a "clean conscience" about all of it.

Farther on our journey through COVID, the classic paradox of time and no money versus money and no time ceased.  Folks worked on everything around their homes.  This created a supply chain shortage.  Lumber prices soared.  Then the administration changed over with the presidential election.  Increased COVID restrictions kept supply ships from China and other places hanging out off the coast of California due to the required C-19 requirements.  Before this, food prices began ratcheting up, too, with possible instances of price-fixing by meat suppliers.  Farmers in America were selling their livestock for the same prices, but Americans experienced higher prices at the grocery store.  Farmers scratched their heads, wondering how they missed out on the payday.

Stephen Colbert never had to worry, though.  He can afford $15 a gallon, an electric car that middle- and lower-class Americans cannot afford, and rising food prices to boot.

In the last few days, we see oil reach $130 a barrel.  We have not seen oil this high since the financial crisis of 2008.  Domestic oil production is down, and due to this administration's imperative for renewable energy, we prefer to increase our reliance on foreign, communist regime oil in Venezuela to unleashing our domestic oil production.  However, many domestic producers in America do not fret.  Ultimately, this administration helps wipe out big oil companies' competition — smaller oil drilling companies in America.  This is an old tactic of progressivism reaching back to Teddy Roosevelt: continue eliminating new and smaller entrants to the market, which helps big companies remain on top.

Lastly, the Russian conflict in Ukraine revealed that our oil refineries are far behind in the ability to process sweet crude.  Instead, many of our refineries are poised to process only sour crude, which Russia produces.  However, America will be a renewable energy power whether the middle- and working-class Americans handle it or not.

The reality is that Stephen Colbert is willing to pay for this new America...because he can afford to pay the rising costs.  If you are a single mother trying to raise your children while working two to three jobs and driving, then $4, $5, and $6 cuts into feeding your children because groceries in America have already increased in price by approximately 8% in the last year.  The number may be higher.  Ultimately, what we can take away from rising inflation, scarcity, and rising prices in America is that there is a joke on middle- and working-class Americans.

Stephen Colbert is perfectly comfortable making us the brunt of his jokes.  He is extremely out of touch, feels perfectly comfortable laughing at our expense, at the grocery store, and at the gas pump.  He has a "clean conscience" about all of it.

James Aaron Brown is a professor of business and finance.  He holds a doctorate in strategic leadership and speaks and consults on generational dynamics in the workplace with a focus on Gen Z (ages 8 to 26).  When he's not working or writing about current issues, he's in the outdoors with his little dog, Fenrir.

Image: Montclair Film Fesitval.

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