By Luca Goldmansour / Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
The Wall Street Journal (2/14/23) gave a crash course on the true meaning of freedom under capitalism with its piece “To Save Money, Maybe You Should Skip Breakfast.” Ironically, the article sat behind a paywall. So instead of skipping breakfast to cut costs, maybe Journal readers should cancel their subscriptions.
The absurdity of the headline is self-apparent. It was met with bewilderment by readers shocked to realize it lacked even a tinge of sarcasm. As one noted, “If you skip breakfast, lunch and dinner you can save even more money.”
Nonetheless, the article bears examination, because it highlights the corporate media’s determination to convince workers and consumers that inflation means that resources are scarce, and not that immensely profitable corporations are ripping them off (FAIR.org, 4/21/22, 1/25/23).
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Other than its cruel recommendation, the article, by economics reporter Gabriel Rubin, was a rather mundane report about the rising costs of breakfast staples like eggs, juice, cereal and coffee. But it neglected to mention that in the case of the egg industry, for example, which saw prices rise 138% over 2022, advocacy groups like Farm Action are sounding the alarm on potential collusion to price-gouge under the guise of an avian flu outbreak and inflation.
The big players in the industry include Cal-Maine Foods, Rose Acre Farms, Versova Holdings and Hillandale Farms. But Cal-Maine Foods alone “controls approximately 20% of the egg market and dwarfs its nearest competitor,” according to Farm Action’s letter to the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation of the industry. Central to Farm Action’s case is their determination that “supply chain disruptions do not justify [the] dramatic increase in egg prices.”
According to the USDA, the letter notes, the total loss of egg-laying hens to the avian flu in 2022 was about 43 million birds. Although that sounds substantial, the reality is that, “after accounting for chicks hatched during the year, the average size of the egg-laying flock in any given month of 2022 was never more than 7–8% lower than it was a year prior.”
Despite this marginal effect, Rubin wrote that the outbreak’s impact “has devastated poultry flocks across the US.” The reporter also blamed the war in Ukraine for the drastic price increases. But according to Cal-Maine Foods’ own investor presentation, the associated cost of bird feed has only gone up 22% over the last year, not nearly enough to account for such high prices, Farm Action notes.
So, contrary to the Journal’s assertions, the evidence shows that the more than doubling of egg prices over the past year is disproportionately high compared to losses in production. And at the same time that these companies are acting like their hands are tied by supply disruptions, their profits have skyrocketed. From May through November 2022, Cal-Maine saw their gross profits increase tenfold.
Instead of acknowledging this damning evidence, the article referred to a “perfect storm” of supply disruptions—a framing that bolsters the “act of God” narrative promoted by industry trade strategists (Yahoo!, 2/15/23) meant to rid companies of responsibility for price hikes.
As food insecurity grows with inflating prices, corporate media continue to insist that the supposed efficiency of the free market is doing the best it can. In doing so, they continue to expose what capitalist freedom really means. You don’t have to stick with the program, because there’s always the option of starving!
If the Wall Street Journal were truly concerned with the impact of inflating egg prices on consumers, it wouldn’t make the callous and indifferent suggestion that they skip a meal; it would take on the powerful and profitable corporations that continue to use their monopoly power to extract maximum profit at the expense of people’s well-being.