An organization called the National Center for Economic Alternatives has offered the Congress and the president a list of 100 measures that could be taken to attack what it calls "Basic Necessity Inflation."
Some of the suggestions are long-term; some short-term. But they point up the fact that we are still doing almost nothing about an economic condition that is hurting everybody and promises to hurt Jimmy Carter, too.
According to the two economists who headed up the study, Gar Alperovitz and Jeff Faux, prices are rising much faster in the basic necessities index of food, energy, medical care and shelter - that is, in the items that make up nearly 70 percent of consumption expenditures for 80 percent of the population - than in the economy as a whole.
Basic necessity prices are now rising at an annual rate of over 12 percent whereas the general Consumer Price Index is rising at less than 10 percent.
Food is going up at an 18.7 annual rate; energy at 7.8; medical care at 8.4 and shelter at 11 percent. Non-necessities - defined as all other goods and services combined - are rising at just under 4 percent.
Alperovitz and Faux also point out that, contrary to popular assumption, the sources of inflation in basic necessities are factors other than wages.
In housing construction, for example, labor costs have actually declined as a proportion of new-home prices since 1970. The greatest increases have been in land and financing costs.
In hospital care, payrolls have dropped steadily as a a proportion of costs. And in energy, only the price of coal, which accounts for less than one-fifth of annual energy consumption, is subject to significant wage pressure.
In food, the recent price rises are not the result of increased wages but of poor harvests, bad weather and previous excessive world demand for grain.
The point of the study is that without imposing wage-price controls, tightening interest rates or trying to reduce demand, government can take measures to reduce inflation. In the area of food alone, Alperovitz and Faux offer 29 suggestions beginning with a rise in the import quota for foreign beef. In energy, they suggest legislation requiring the abandonment of rate structures that reward big users. They also urge Congress to end the practice of those utilities that charge customers billions of dollars in federal income taxes never actually paid to the government.
In housing, the two economists urge implementation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974, which is intended to protect consumers against exorbitant settlement costs when buying a home. Consumers pay over $15 billion annually in settlement costs.
In health care, they warn of the jolt ahead when Social Security taxes go up, and they urge the financing of Medicare from general revenues instead.
The point Alperovitz and Faux seem to be making is that there are things we can do about inflation other than waiting and hoping, which is what Jimmy Carter seems to be doing now.
If, as these two economists predict, the Carter energy plan along with the Social Security tax rise will set off another rapid rise in inflation next year, Jimmy Carter is going to hear about little else at election time.