The Inflation Crisis—Handle It Wisely
“IF IT continues at this rate for much longer the time will come when nobody will be able to eat. Instead of belt-tightening we’re going to see people eating their belts,” said a Brazilian lawyer.
Brazil has suffered severe inflation recently, but it is not alone. From wintry Iceland to tropical Ghana, most countries—whether communist or capitalist, democracies or dictatorships—have suffered from inflation to some degree. Experts differ as to why this is so, but one thing is certain: Ordinary people have to live with it. How do they manage?
For the wealthy, adjustment may not seem too painful. Interviews with professional people in Rio de Janeiro revealed that some had cut down on their trips abroad and others had dismissed their maids, while one had switched from an expensive brand of whiskey to a cheap brand. But what of those who have no maids to dismiss, or who cannot afford even cheap whiskey? One commercial clerk commented: “For people in the low-income brackets this thing must be incredible!”
A Nigerian mother of three revealed to a newspaper reporter that, because of inflation, she had been forced to stop serving her family three meals a day. Now she serves just two. “I’m not the only one, mind you,” she maintained. “Hundreds of others [do this] also.” True, two “square meals” a day instead of three do not represent starvation. For some persons, however, this is a severe adjustment in their living standard.
Hundreds of millions of persons are having to make drastic changes in their way of life. How do they react?
An Unwise Reaction
Inflation causes many to become fearful. The Philippine magazine Panorama stated that, because of inflation, “there’s a real, physical nationwide deprivation and, with it, fear. Will we lose our job tomorrow? . . . Can we bear the tyranny of the economy of our time?” This fear can lead people to act unwisely.
An article in U.S. News & World Report commented: “Struggling to maintain their lifestyles despite double-digit inflation and the deepening recession, a growing number of middle-class Americans are turning to crime.” It goes on to show that a lot of “normally law-abiding citizens” now engage in such crimes as passing bad checks, embezzlement, shoplifting and cheating on taxes. The remark is made: “They’re not evil. They are earning less in real dollars and paying more for energy, more for rent, more for food. They wonder how . . . do you cut back?”
Resorting to such crimes to avoid cutting back is not a wise solution. Stealing may give momentary relief to economic difficulties, but it does not solve them. Once the stolen money is spent, the problems come back. If the thief is caught, embarrassment and public shame are added to his problems. Sadly, the growth of crimes such as mugging and theft has added the dimension of uncertainty and terror to the lives of all people around the world, including the poor.
A proverb of Solomon, which expressed godly wisdom, says: “Do not become envious of the man of violence, nor choose any of his ways.” And it points to a strong reason for avoiding such a course, saying: “For the devious person is a detestable thing to Jehovah, but His intimacy is with the upright ones.” (Prov. 3:31, 32) There are better ways than crime for handling inflation.
Adjustments That Some Make
Robert Fuller, in his report entitled “Inflation: The Rising Cost of Living on a Small Planet” (as quoted in the Philippine newspaper Bulletin Today), said: “Like shortness of breath in the course of normal daily activities, inflation is a signal to us to change our pattern of living.” This is true both of nations and of individuals.
Some people have begun to examine their life-style. They are seriously questioning the way they live. Instead of paying inflated prices, many are deciding to do things themselves. In the United States, families have started growing food in their gardens, repairing garments instead of buying new ones, doing their own home repairs and decorating. If something they consider nonessential—like a television set—cannot be easily repaired, they do without it.
In the Philippines, some have said that they are cutting down on smoking and drinking in order to cope with inflation. That is a move in the right direction. They also mentioned that they cut down on soft drinks. Sometimes they walk instead of taking public transportation. Additionally, rather than pay for family entertainment, they take their children for a romp in the park. Truly, “the best things in life are free.” They are also immune from inflation.
Yes, handling inflation wisely can involve changes in life-style. It also frequently involves altering our way of thinking. For example, in one Asian land, a man saved up enough money to buy two pigs. He planned to breed them and develop a small business selling pigs. However, the time came for a feast in his village, and since he was prominent there, he was expected to pay for most of the food. His savings were spent, and his small business—which could have been a hedge against inflation—never materialized.
In the same area, another man borrowed money from the bank to make improvements on his farm. Then, unexpectedly, his son got married. Following the custom of the area, the man prepared a wedding banquet, inviting the whole village to share. If he had done less, he would have “lost face.” All the money from the bank loan was spent entertaining his neighbors, and now the bank is threatening legal action to get its money back. Sadly, the man might even lose his farm.
These experiences demonstrate another facet of wisdom in handling economic problems. It may be necessary to have the courage not to follow certain customs or traditions that, while not wrong in themselves, are too expensive to be practical.
Balance is also needed in another matter. In some countries men are offered opportunities to travel to richer lands for work. They may stay abroad for periods of a year or more. When times are hard, such opportunities are difficult to resist. But such a step needs careful thought. What about the family left behind? A man owes his family more than merely money. Who will care for the wife or discipline the children while he is gone? Some who accepted such contracts later returned to find that their children had become delinquents.
Similar was the case of a man employed as a sugarcane cutter. When the world price for sugar plummeted, his wages were reduced and he did not have enough to pay his weekly expenses. He felt that the best solution was to borrow some cash and start a small business buying and selling livestock and produce. However, the one who loaned him the money insisted that he work seven days a week, and threatened that the loan would be withdrawn if he did not. Now the man has no time to care for his family, or to do anything but work. His whole life is taken up in the effort to make money.
When under great economic pressure, would it not be wise to discuss your plans with some experienced, mature persons in whom you have confidence? Is what you have in mind the only answer to your problem? How are other people handling the situation? The Bible says: “Where there are no wise suggestions, purposes come to nothing; but by a number of wise guides they are made certain.” (Prov. 15:22, The Bible in Basic English) “Wise suggestions” may help to prevent you from getting into unnecessary difficulties.
Perhaps the basic secret in handling the inflation crisis is to have a proper view of material things, to discern what is and what is not important. Not long ago, a severe flood swept through several provinces in the northern Philippines, destroying much property. One poor family, when they noticed the rising waters, took refuge in a mango tree. From there they saw the swirling waters wash away their flimsy house, their few pigs and chickens—all their material possessions. Their reaction? They thanked God that they were still alive. They appreciated that they still had their most precious possession: life.
One of their neighbors was quite wealthy. He had fields in which a large harvest of rice was waiting to be gathered. When the flood came, the whole crop was destroyed. Even after the disaster, this man probably was still much wealthier than his poor neighbors, but his loss had been greater. His mind could not take the strain, and the unfortunate man suffered a mental breakdown.
A disaster can change our style of living in an instant of time, whereas inflation robs us slowly and insidiously. The result, however, can be the same. If we value our present standard of living too highly we may sacrifice too much in an effort to preserve it.
True, most people who have become used to the conveniences of civilization would not willingly give them all up. Nevertheless, we can live without many of them. Handling the problem of inflation wisely may involve doing so more and more as time goes by.
The Course of Wisdom
King Solomon noted that “wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection.” “But,” he added, “the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom itself preserves alive its owners.” (Eccl. 7:12) Solomon had an abundance of both wisdom and money. We do well, then, to consider his opinion of their comparative values. Since money is becoming less and less effective as a “protection,” surely now is the time to look at the more valuable alternative—wisdom. Thousands today are coping with inflation simply because they apply Bible wisdom in their lives.
Even in the best of times, godly wisdom is superior to money. In what way? In that it teaches us about Jehovah God and his purposes. At the present time, godly wisdom helps us to understand why mankind is being inundated with seemingly insurmountable problems, such as inflation. It helps us to make the best possible use of the possessions we still have and points us to the fast-approaching time when God himself will intervene in world affairs and give faithful mankind life in an inflation-free paradise.
Additionally, godly wisdom teaches us that, even now, no matter how severe inflation or other problems may become, those who worship God in harmony with his Word of truth will not be forgotten by him. As many can testify, he watches over them so that they lack nothing that is essential for their life.—Matt. 6:25-33.
This godly wisdom is based on knowledge found in God’s Word, the Bible. If inflation is destroying your peace of mind, or is posing apparently insoluble problems, we encourage you to look into the Bible and see how its wisdom can help you. You will find no better guide in these times.
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‘Struggling to maintain their life-styles, a growing number are turning to crime’
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Have a proper view of material things. Discern what is important and what is not
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Cost of Living