Spreading poisonous portents about prices and empty shops should be punished with a prison term

Being told what it will cost in a few months took the edge off Alf's appetite.

Full of Christmas cheer and that joy-to-the-world feeling, Alf was dismayed to find the NZ Herald giving news space to some grumble guts from the Institute of Economic Research who plainly is intent on destroying the mood of merriment built during the festive season.

The bugger is telling us that food prices are soaring, which is not what Alf wants to hear as he clambers into the Christmas dinner left-overs.

Alf especially does not want to hear it when he is still celebrating his MPs’ pay rise.

By March, the economist predicts, food prices will be 8 to 10 per cent higher than they were last March.

This merchant of misery and peddler of pessimism is the institute’s principal economist, who no doubt lost any aptitude for feeling merry as a consequence of being named Shamubeel Eaqub.

Anyone who wandered into the Eketahuna Club and introduced himself as Shamubeel Eaqub would be suspected of being foreign, maybe Islamic, and perhaps with bombs strapped to his under-garments or stuck up his nether regions.

He would be given a wide berth.

Alf supposes the poor bugger is similarly shunned in many other circles of polite society and hence has become decidedly anti-social.

And he is taking revenge, presumably, by aiming to destroy all hopes and expectations of a prosperous new year before we have seen out the last days of 2010.

According to the Herald, he is basing his inflationary forecast on the ANZ commodity index, which shows the price of “soft” commodities, including dairy foods and grain, went up 30 per cent this year.

Mr Eaqub said food prices usually followed commodity price rises within about nine months, and although they didn’t rise “one to one”, he was expecting a sharp increase in food prices.

He believed next year would be even tougher than this year, as households were hit with extra costs from October’s rise in GST, increasing costs of fuel, higher ACC levies and taxes from the emissions trading scheme.

“The bottom 60 per cent of income earners are worse off than they were last year. I think the early part of 2011 will be pretty difficult.”

At least the bugger acknowledged that commodity price rises are good for farmers, who get more for their produce.

But he contaminated the good stuff by saying this meant only bigger grocery bills for everyone else.

Mr Eaqub also predicted more empty shops by February as retailers felt the pinch.

He believed spending was down by about 1 per cent on last year.

The fact that many shops were having more sales offering higher discounts showed they were struggling to get people spending.

“If you’re a retailer, this really does suck. People have gone from spending a lot of money to spending a lot less. Everybody’s living within their means now – in aggregate anyway.

“We’re not seeing people using credit cards as much, they’re not borrowing as much money, they’re paying down debt and there’s just less money to go around.

“There’s a mood of caution that prevails right across the economy and in that kind of environment, you’re not going to have massive amounts of spending.”

The release of this bile was triggered, Alf supposes, by the latest Statistics New Zealand food price index which showed prices rose 4.8 per cent in the year to November.

Eaqub said consumer spending after the recession would remain subdued for five to seven years.

“We’re only a couple of years into this … We’ve been talking about it for a decade, right?

“Now that it’s happened, it’s like, ‘Why isn’t it over yet?’ Well, it took us 15 years to get into this mess, do you think it might take a few years to get out of it?”

Fifteen years is about the length of the prison term Alf would impose on this scoundrel for his economic treason.

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