The Guardian: ‘What am I going to do?’: soaring prices fuel calls for US government to step in

April 30, 2022 Media

Outside a Dollar Tree in Detroit, Latasha Holmes lamented the rising cost of toilet paper, beverages, food and other items she had just purchased. The price increases, she said, were forcing her to choose among necessities for her and four kids.

“What am I going to do? Prices are up everywhere, all over town,” she said. “I can’t afford everything.”

But while Holmes struggles, Dollar Tree thrives. The retailer increased its prices by 25% as profits jumped 269% between 2019 and 2021, and its profit margins widened. Shareholders won too. The company also announced a stock buyback program worth $1bn that will deliver cash from those price increases to its investors.

Dollar Tree and other large corporations are juicing profits by passing on higher-than-needed price increases to customers like Holmes under the cover of inflation, war and supply chain squeezes, consumer advocates and economists say. They are calling for the federal government to take bold steps to rein in the companies.

Among proposed prescriptions are price controls, improved price fixing rules, commodity market intervention, stock buyback regulation and antitrust enforcement. Ranged against those proposals are a powerful business lobby and a divided Congress that seems unable to pass major legislation.

“There are reasons to have a profit incentive, but there are also reasons to have an overall regulatory body that can say, ‘This is actually profiteering … while everyone is hurting,’” said Krista Brown, a policy analyst with the American Economic Liberties Project.