I must disclose up front I am a fan of hamburger meat. I enjoy hamburger in everything from stroganoff to spaghetti, to taco salad and of course the classic bacon cheese burger. I am a fan of hamburger meat plain and simple.
Recently I entered into a discussion with my aging mother about how expensive hamburger meat is at her local grocery store. I attempted to explain to mom that the main reason the hamburger at the grocer in town was constantly going up in price was not a result of a massive shortage of cattle in the world or a surge in demand because all the vegans have torn away from their veggie loving faith and now want cow, but instead that the value of her dollars was decreasing. It is that decrease in the value of her dollar that requires the butcher to demand more of them for the same pound of burger.
I tried to use hypothetical examples with her about pounds of ground beef vs. dollars in different decades, but all my data was made up data but I knew the principle was correct. I decided I would go back and actually reference some of the data for real that I hypothesized to explain a concept to my mother.
I found two wonderful websites that provided me the data I needed to go back and evaluate the hypothetical discussion I had with mom with the real data. The first site was The People History: Comparison of Prices Over 70 Years which allowed me to reference the price of ground cow going all the way back to 1930. The other site is a treasure trove of data and can be used to pull up all kinds of interesting facts of finance history, it is MeasuringWorth.com and I used this site for determining both the data for the New York Market gold index and the production workers average hourly compensation. Below is a layout of the data, but before you get all lost in words like gold index or production workers average hourly compensation, let me calm your fears it just means the price of gold and how much the “average joe / joanne” made per hour. Below is the data:
Year / Price per lb of Burger / Price per Ounce of Gold / Production Worker Avg Hourly Wage
1930 / 12 cents / $ 20.67 / $ 0.53
1940 / 20 cents / $ 35.00 / $ 0.67
1950 / 30 cents / $ 35.00 / $ 1.55
1960 / 45 cents / $ 35.00 / $ 2.54
1970 / 70 cents / $ 36.41 / $ 3.93
1980 / 99 cents / $ 612.56 / $ 9.12
1990 / 89 cents / $ 384.93 / $ 14.41
2009 / $3.99 / $ 975.00 / $ 26.15
The conversation over the holidays with my mother about hamburger meat followed the cliché form of “Well when I went to work back in the 50′s I could buy hamburger meat for only x cents per pound.” Using the above data it’s easy enough to calculate how much hamburger she could purchase with an hour of her labor. In 1950 the average hourly wage for a production worker is $1.55 and hamburger was 30 cents per pound so she could trade an hour of her life for a little over 5 lbs of ground cow. 1.55/0.30 = 5.167
The data above also reflects the truth that my mom would have had to work almost 23 hours to purchase 1 ounce of gold. 35.00/1.53 = 22.88 There is only one HUGE problem with this calculation… The price of gold in 1940, 50 or 60 illustrated above is not a real market value. The constant price of 35.00 an ounce for decades is an anomaly created by the federal govt, central banks and their intervention in the gold market which began with the confiscation of all American citizens’ gold in 1933 by a tyrannical executive order. Fortunate for the world the The Losing Battle to Fix Gold at $35 ended in 1968.
So to generate a more realistic comparison I am going to use the data for the value of gold prior to the confiscation, the 1930 value of $ 20.67 per ounce. My dilemma with the mother discussion or with this article is my mother wasn’t alive in 1930. Enter my vivid ability to imagine and pretend. I will enlist the memory of my late grandpa to formulate my scenario.
Let us imagine that my grandpa worked for 53 cents an hour as the data above indicates. At that rate and the 1930 price of burger and gold, he could have purchased almost 4 and half pounds of burger for an hours labor: 0.53 / 0.12 = 4.4 It would also require my grandpa to work for 39 hours to earn enough to purchase one ounce of gold: 20.67 / 0.53 = 39. That is almost a full work week for one ounce of gold, funny I remember reading somewhere about someone in ancient Rome working a week for an ounce of gold, but can’t remember the reference, I digress…
Mooooving on, let us pretend that my grandpa one week, saved his entire pay, bought a 1 ounce gold coin and buried it in a mason jar out in the backyard, near the pet graveyard where some of the best ‘coon and ‘possum dogs in the world were laid to rest. Then in 2009, when my nephew was buryin’ “ol’ Blue”, an amazing bluetick hound that was legendary across many hollers, he struck gold. After some deliberation he decided he should give the coin to my mother since it was in fact buried in the dirt she inherited. My mom then took and sold the coin at the then market price of $975.00. She then headed to the grocer where she is able to purchase an amazing 244 lbs of burger!!! 975.00/3.99 = 244.4. This burger represents a trade for my grandpa’s week (39 hours) of labor decades ago.
We might be curious though how does this compare to his meat garnering ability back in 1930 when he earned the money to purchase the coin. Well in 1930 for 20.67 the price of the 1 ounce gold coin he could have only bought 172 lbs of ground cow. 20.67 / 0.12 = 172
This leads me to conclude the price of hamburger has actually DECREASED by a factor of about %30. Here is the math 244.4 – 172 = 72.4 and 72.4 / 244.4 * 100% = 29.6%
What about at today’s prices? Well the price of gold when I checked earlier today was $ 1668 dollars per ounce and I found some hamburger for $3.75 a pound, good stuff too, not the all fat hamburger, but the leaner 90/10 mix!!!
Let’s run the numbers and be AMAZED. If I had gramp’s 1 ounce gold coin, that represented a week of his labor, I could buy 445 lbs of delicious ground cow!!! 1668 / 3.75 = 445 Oh My, can you say cook out at Wolfravenous’ house??? This is also a relative decrease in price of the patty on my next bacon cheeseburger of about 60%. 445 – 172 = 273 and 273 / 445 * 100% = 61.3%
SO WHAT HAPPENED??? Why does my mom think hamburger is more expensive than it used to be??? The Federal Reserve happened. The EVIL Federal Reserve and it’s “rotting potato” monetary policy. The Fed creates more and more fiat dollars. Those new fiat dollars destroy the value of dollars already in existence that folks like my grandpa or mother traded hours of their life for. This is a most vile form of theft because most of the people being robbed do not realize it because the Chairmen of the Fed is not standing in front of them holding them up at gunpoint. However, this is THEFT, it is stealing the time people traded of their lives by destroying the value of the dollars they traded that time for.
As a result, even though hamburger is really, produced and delivered to market more efficiently now than in 1930, and the relative price has decreased by approximately 60% my mother thinks it has gone up. I blame this misconception partly on the widespread incorrect definition of inflation. Most folks, my mother included think that inflation is “higher prices”, when actually “inflation” is an increase in the supply of something, in this case the medium of exchange and even more specifically dollars. As the Fed increases the amount of dollars in existence, they “inflate” the money supply, making my mom’s dollars worth less and her gold worth more because there are lots more dollars in circulation, but the amount of gold out there, didn’t change too much.
Unfortunately, this effect also translates over to the grocers shelves, as dollars increased drastically from 2009 to 2012 making their value fall, the prices you saw in the grocery store rose and are continuing to do so.
There are two things to take from this article. The US dollar is rotting, it has been for decades, it is on purpose, it is made to do so by the Fed, so don’t be caught holding dollars or bananas for really long periods of time.
Second and lastly, If you enjoy hamburger meat as much as I do it might be worth burying a 1 ounce gold coin out back so your grandchildren can have a lavish cookout with a few hundred pounds of ground cow when they are old enough to write a blog about their granpa’s amazing foresight and 100% grade A “Angus” generosity.