Names matter by Susan Grimsdell
Choosing the right name
Betty Friedan made a very powerful point way back in 1963. If a problem has no name, it doesn’t exist. She was talking about the limitations on women’s role in society, and her work marked the beginning of awareness for most people – me for one.
Another point to remember is that whatever name is chosen determines how the problem will be perceived. If we label poverty using words that indicate laziness and unwillingness to work, the perception is quite different from a label that indicates bad luck in life from birth.
Today we have a problem and we call it “inflation”. This is a name, but it’s not a correct name. It should be replaced with “excessive greed”. One example is grocery prices. In 2022 the Commerce Commission released its report on supermarkets in NZ. It found that our supermarkets are among the most expensive in the world. Out of 38 OECD countries we’re the fifth highest – 33 of them have lower prices than NZ, a country whose main product is food. Visitors from overseas confirm this. They are shocked by prices here.
The right name is gouging
The essential cause is lack of competition. We have two main players, who seem to act to make sure they don’t undercut one another. They also set rules for suppliers, threatening them with removal of their products unless they agree to certain costs, risks, and levels of uncertainty. The Commission wants a mandatory code of conduct to “…ban unfair conduct”. This clearly means there is unfair conduct going on here and now. These are our nice friendly local supermarkets – ruthless isn’t the word.
Now they are rubbing their hands with glee – so-called inflation is measured at over 7%. Terrific – they can increase prices and no one will question it. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. They used to take a million dollars a day in excess profits. Note the word “excess” which means over and above what would be considered a fair rate of profit. Since then prices of almost everything I’ve bought from toilet paper to popcorn have zoomed up. When a box of tissues that was $1.50 a couple of months ago is now $3.00, don’t tell me it’s because the supplier has put up the price. They wish – dream on! It’s not the suppliers creaming it, it’s the supermarkets.
So let’s thank Betty Friedan for drawing our attention to such a fundamental and important concept – the importance of a name. Let’s call increasing prices for what it is – not “inflation” but “gouging”*, when we are all completely unable to walk away from paying whatever they want from us.
There are about as many dairy cows in NZ as people – and we’re all getting milked every single day until the last drop is squeezed out.
*Price gouging is the practice of increasing the prices of goods, services, or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair.