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Truck price dynamics are, naturally, driving US inflation.
Image copyright: Reuters/Rebecca Cook
Truck price dynamics are, naturally, driving US inflation.

Don’t fret about inflation

There are a lot of things to be stressed about these days: ransomware, climate change, cicadas, the existence of Balenciaga Crocs. But for now, US inflation isn’t one of them.

US consumer prices shot up 5% year-on-year in May, according to data released this week—the steepest such increase since May 2008. Economists had already been predicting prices would surge by around 4.7%, so the actual figure is feeding anxieties that the US is settling into a sustained (and not “transitory”) period of inflation.

Just one hiccup: Details in the data suggest otherwise.

At the heart of the inflation calculation is what is known as the “base effect”—the effect of computing the year-on-year inflation numbers for the past three months by comparing them to the March-April-May period in 2020. In those three months, when the pandemic was sinking its teeth into the US economy, states were locked down, businesses were shut, and supply chains were tangled and knotted. As a result, prices either fell or stayed abnormally low: April 2020, for instance, witnessed a 0.7% drop in prices from the prior month. A year later, those bottomed-out prices are throwing off year-on-year comparisons in March, April, and May 2021.

It’s also worth noting that a third of the overall price rise in May was due to the surge in used car prices: 29.7% as compared to May 2020, the largest such year-on-year increase in nearly half a century. The reason is the same as it was in April: lagging production of new cars because of supply and transportation bottlenecks. Other areas that saw strong price increases, like air travel and hotel bookings, also had abnormally depressed levels last year. Meanwhile in less pandemic-hit sectors, such as food at home or rent, the rise in prices was more tempered.

Unfortunately, you only get to snooze the anxiety for a few more weeks. By June 2020, as the US’s enormous economic stimulus took hold, prices began to rise again. So in early July, when we’re able to compare June 2021 prices to those from last year, we’ll have a fuller, truer picture of inflation—and of how “transitory” it promises to be. —Samanth Subramanian 

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Five things from Quartz we especially liked

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Sheryl Sandberg is still speaking out—but not like she used to.

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Time’s up. Those same seven nations are also among the world’s biggest carbon polluters. Few of them are paying their fair share to fund climate adaptation, and collectively the group is still investing more into fossil fuels than green energy alternatives. If the world is going to avert disaster, Tim McDonnell forcefully argues, it’s time for the G7 to put up or shut up. —Nicolás Rivero, tech reporter

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One membership thing that made us 🤳

There are two opposing theories of competition among social media platforms. One holds that social networks are inherently faddish: Kids don’t want to be on the same platforms as their parents, and newer, cooler options are bound to pop up and supplant their predecessors eventually. The other says that social networks are inherently sticky: Everyone wants to go where their friends and their favorite influencers already are, which means that large, established incumbents with lots and lots of users will always have an advantage over upstart rivals.

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We’re obsessed with Swiss army knives

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Sharper than ever. A Swiss Army knife can scale a fish, remove a splinter, help start a fire, or sew a ripped seam shut. Its powers are so impressive that a federal judge in California favorably compared an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army knife in a ruling reversing the state’s ban on assault weapons. More charmingly, a researcher from the Georgia Tech College of Engineering invoked the multifaceted tool to extoll the many wonders of the elephant trunk. In an age of never-ending technology upgrades and improvements, the “Original Swiss Army knife” is still a best-seller. This Quartz Weekly Obsession is a cut above.

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Are you obsessed with the Olympics?

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There’s an email for that, too. Need to Know: Tokyo Olympics will break down the latest event highlights alongside the business dealings and geopolitical ramifications of the Games, with a bit of help from our Quartz Japan colleagues on the ground.

📬 A daily guide to the Games, with highlights, histories, and surprising discoveries... plus news of any cancellations.

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Five things from elsewhere that made us smarter

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Boris Johnson, prime minister.

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Writing a tragedy by hand. A traditional craft deeply rooted in India’s history, calligraphy has struggled to remain sustainable. Recently, however, it’s in the highest of demands, and for the most terrible of reasons: the many Covid-19 dead need gravestones, and gravestones need inscriptions. For the People’s Archive of Rural India, Amir Malik tells the story of India’s tragic Covid-19 outbreak through the eyes of the calligraphers at one of New Delhi’s biggest cemeteries—giving both a heartbreaking measure of the tragedy the country is living through, and a poetic tribute to an art that’s very much alive. —Annalisa Merelli, reporter

Fake humans. AI is as biased as the data it’s built on. To get around that problem, companies are creating synthetic humans to train algorithms for a variety of tasks, like tracking driver alertness or body movements at self-checkouts, Karen Hao reports for MIT Technology Review. But the creepy-looking digital renditions of people could ultimately make AI even messier. —Ana Campoy, deputy finance and economics editor


Want to dive deeper? Check out the field guide to AI’s power problem from the Quartz archive.

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