Inflation is one of the few factors uniting Americans at the moment. It’s a great ice breaker. “Well how about those gas prices!” says your co-worker in the break room. “Oh tell me about it,” you reply. “I spent $80 filling up my tank last week.” The response of course is a quick “crazy,” and both of you move on. But right there in that space, no matter if red or blue, you were united for a brief moment. 

When times are good, we forget how bad things can get; we consider ourselves wise when we look back at people before us and forget that more often than not, we fail to learn the same lesson repeatedly. It can be safely said that the majority of social turmoil is caused in times of economic uncertainty. 

We are living in times of inflation that this country has not seen in years. Inflation is a pattern that occurs in the economy due to a variety of factors, and it has been the root of social turmoil throughout history. 

One of those notable times of social upheaval was the French Revolution. In 1790, after the revolution started with the storming of the Bastille, the new General Assembly government moved to print new currency in the millions. The reasons for this was massive (and for the most part unsupervised) spending on social programs in France. As a result, the physical paper that the currency was printed on was worth more than the currency itself.

When working-class people of the 18th century found themselves in a helpless financial situation with a seemingly unreliable government, they turned to revolt. In 1793 Parisians looted and rioted in the streets when sellers refused to sell goods to purchase because of the currency volatility. From there it was a slippery slope of the government printing more money, and imposing increasingly draconian measures to stem social discontent.

The truth of the matter is that people do not change, times do. As much as we like to think we are different from our ancestors who stood and watched their queen be guillotined in Paris, we aren’t. We are still motivated by the same instincts and motives that lead us to make the decisions that we do – the primary one being survival. 

This same sense of panicked survival by whatever means necessary was seen in Germany in the 1920-30s in the antebellum period. After the first World War, Germany was forced to pay massive reparations as spelled out in the Treaty of Versailles. A broken country themselves, with an even more broken nation, Germany was in no financial position to do so. One of the main reasons for this weak economic situation was the government’s decision to print boundless amounts of money to finance the war. The thinking was that if Germany had won, the debt would not have been an issue. 

The Weimar Republic however, did not win, and was left with an unimaginable financial burden. The government printed boundless amounts of money. The inflation turned into hyperinflation where prices rose not every few weeks or months, but within a matter of days. Under such economic conditions, morale was incredibly low among the German people. They stopped voting and engaging in civil activities. They lost trust in government and institutions and instead turned to solutions that channeled all the frustration toward a specific group. The 1920s saw a rise in antisemitism, which certain political leaders took advantage of in order to gain power. 

Of course the claim cannot be made that hyperinflation laid the road for the rise of totalitarianism and Hitler, however, it was definitely a cobblestone. A populace of broken people is usually a populace that is easy to manipulate with short-term solutions and scapegoating, which was the pattern seen in the 1920-30s leading into World War II. 

Economic turmoil is linked with social turmoil, and that is a phenomenon riddled with uncertainty. These historical examples are to show that context matters. All of our modern-day economic policies, in one way or another, have an origin from these real-world events that resulted in world-changing events. It also shows that a basic principle like inflation has the ability to cripple the most advanced of economies if not managed properly. 

I am not making the claim that we will see what Germany saw, but I am saying that it is wise to remain cautious of any political leaders who offer seemingly short-term solutions to multi-tiered problems in order to win elections. It is the prerogative of every voter to understand where inflation comes from and the forces that are responsible for it. 

There are a multitude of reasons for the current levels of inflation. President Biden and his administration have consistently pointed their finger at the war in Ukraine, however, this explanation ignores the fact that levels have been rising since 2021, before the war began. This is yet another area where politics and inflation connect in murky waters. 

With the elections coming up, it will be telling to see just how big of a platform of economic reform the candidates will be running on. 

The price of gasoline has risen significantly and President Biden’s insistence that Russia is to blame is, put simply, not a sound argument. The U.S. imports less than 2% of crude oil from Russia

Furthermore, Biden’s decision to sell over one million barrels of oil to China is a confusing one, taking into consideration the fact that the oil came from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. These barrels could have been used to increase the supply of gas in the U.S. and lower prices for Americans, not elsewhere. In Europe, the war plays a much larger part in the oil supply since Russia is the main supplier, but this is not the case in the United States. This entire argument blames an imaginary cause, and I’d argue that holding government agencies and officials accountable during economic uncertainty is an important part of the voting process. 

As college students, my peers and I are just as affected by these economic conditions as other members of society. Juniors at Fairfield are allowed to have cars on campus, but with gas prices at record high levels, it will be telling to see how many students decide to bring their personal vehicle onto campus, and how many will opt to use the University Stag Bus or car pool with friends. 

It is also important to mention that college students should presume a more heavily involved role in politics. College-aged people as a whole are some of the least politically active groups, especially when it comes to voting. The midterm elections are coming up in November, which will set the tone for the 2024 election. Students above 18 years old are eligible to vote and should be aware of the political arena and the issues that are arising. This ought to be a critical  feature in attending a university which strives to produce well rounded individuals. 

With perspective, today’s problems can always be analyzed through the lens of the past. Most things in human history tend to happen more than once, in some variation, exposing new truths about the human condition and the way people react under stressors in their environment. 

As shown, inflation puts major pressure on the value of money and people’s trust in institutions designed to maintain order. We are seeing this similar phenomenon today as inflation puts pressure on our economy, but the long term effects this strain of economic recession will have on our country and populace have yet to be revealed. 

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