OPINION

Price-gouging

The problem of high prices has taken on political dimensions lately, even though the government believes the matter has been overexaggerated, citing the official inflation index and bank studies that show an insignificant rise in prices compared with last year, on the order of 1 percent. The government is obviously trying to overlook the fact that the public’s perception of high prices is not formed by the official weighted consumer price index, but by the price increases in a series of products in everyday use. So when everybody agrees that there is profiteering in many such cheap products (coffee, sandwiches, cheese pies, bottled water, soft drinks and souvlaki), with increases of 50 percent and more, people obviously feel they are being deceived when the government talks about 3.5-percent inflation, no matter whether their views are scientific or not. If one adds to this the unjustifiably high increases in the prices of fruit and vegetables, which often exceed 100 percent, together with outrageous price-gouging at many tourist resorts, which has affected all the city-dwellers who have just returned from their holidays, the public’s evident concern about high prices becomes perfectly comprehensible. This feeling is heightened when leading members of the government and the ruling party, such as Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis or PASOK General Secretary Costas Laliotis, try to go along with public displeasure and disorient it by calling for boycotts against state-run corporations. Apart from the evident demagoguery of encouraging such actions, which attempt to relieve the government of any responsibility for the situation it itself has created, the point is that such actions are totally ineffective. There is no other real solution apart from encouraging competition. In the free-market economy there is no price fixing, or maximum prices, or market checks like those we knew in the past. Hence the role of the government is to ensure conditions that prevent monopolies and allow access to all sectors of the market to as many entrepreneurs as possible, so that prices are subject to intense competition. This is the only way out that will ensure a permanent solution, in contrast to the practices of the past, when the State hypocritically and arbitrarily established maximum prices of products for a set period, which made prices skyrocket immediately after the temporary restrictions were lifted.