THE BLOG
02/11/2011 01:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cheez Doodle Bags: A Leading Economic Indicator

Inflation used to be considered a problem. Back when I was a kid, quarters were made of real silver and they were worth a lot more. Companies were apologetic when they raised prices, and politicians would make long speeches about the shrinking dollar and what to do about it. I haven't heard anyone talk about the subject for a really long time, but the problem is there and is getting worse.

The price of a subway ride in New York City has gone up yet again, and while people complain about that bitterly, as they should, all sorts of other things are more expensive and we hear not a peep from anyone. Why is that?

For instance, at the local bodega the other day, I went to get a bag of potato chips and noticed that a dollar bag is significantly smaller than it used to be. ("Used to be", by the way, is about two weeks ago, which is why I noticed it). I had expected this to happen eventually, because the Wise Potato Chip company has been trying to hide the fact that it's been charging more for quite a while.

How they've been doing it is kind of sneaky. About a decade ago, they would sell three sizes of bags: Large, which would cost about a buck and a half, Medium, which cost fifty cents; and small, which cost a quarter. These were all filled to the brim with delicious chips. (The same thing was the case with Cheez Doodles and Dipsy Doodles, consumption of which has caused numerous diets, but that's beside the point.) But some time around '02 or '03, I began to notice something, they weren't filling up the bags with chips or doodles anymore. Over the decade the bags went from full, to three quarters full to half full, to in some cases a quarter full. This wasn't a mistake by some lazy worker. This was consistent, and while the prices would change wildly from store to store, the sizes of the bags and how filled they were would not, and around '07, the small and medium bags were filled to the brim again but the prices at my local bodegas were now 50c for the former and a buck for the latter. Then they made the new dollar bag for Dipsy Doodles smaller, but at least they would fill up the bag to the brim.

Or they did until about a month ago. They started to be half full about then. That didn't last very long, because just last week, everything was in even smaller bags. What cost a quarter ten years ago now costs four times that. Frito-Lay and Utz have been doing pretty much the same thing, and the boutique brands are through the roof.

Prices for other commodities are up as well. A pair of shoes has gone up from $50 two years ago to $300 last month at the store I used to shop at. I don't own a car, but I see the commercials. Inflation is back, big time, and while the Fed and some in Congress talking about the subject a little. The media seems to be ignoring the problem entirely.

We're not at the point where we're going to fear having to buy wheelbarrows to replace our wallets, but inflation is going to be a major issue in the '12 election and there should be more discussion on the subject.