If one good thing could be said about today’s Americans, it is that they won’t go gently into the inflationary night. That’s a positive thing, because it could be a key to reducing inflation to the 2% annual rate that is the Federal Reserve’s goal.

It’s also better than you could say about their parents and grandparents, who lived in the mid-20th century and assumed high inflation was a natural part of life. People back then expected that prices would rise, so they tended to buy more items at once before that could happen. That kind of behavior can accelerate inflation, some economists believe.

But today’s shoppers aren’t buying it, literally.

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An Associated Press report last week said Americans today are shunning name brands in favor of cheaper store-brand items. Their grocery habits include fewer snacks and gourmet items. They are skimping on paper towels and napkins, and they are buying used cars. Even McDonald’s has seen fewer sales, especially among low-income customers.

This behavior, which could be described as strategizing to avoid inflation, is having a positive effect. Grocers and food companies have slowed their increase in prices. This is good news for the economy, because it is forcing companies to find ways to hold the lid on prices. But it also signals bad news for consumers, many of whom are buying less simply because they can’t afford prices The Associated Press says are about 19%, on average, higher than they were before the pandemic.

An opinion poll commissioned by The Atlantic found that Americans tend to measure the strength of the U.S. economy by what they see in the grocery store. That may explain the disconnect between public opinion on the economy and other indicators that suggest it is strong, such as unemployment, currently at 3.7% nationally, and job growth, which increased by 353,000 in January.

Rogé Karma, a staff writer at The Atlantic, argues that this is a false indicator, because, as he said in a recent newsletter, “groceries make up less than one-tenth of an average consumer’s total budget.”

And yet, we would argue that grocery prices are important because they bring consumers face-to-face with inflation in a way many other goods do not. They represent a household necessity people can’t do without, and so many people will strategize in order to afford them.

The AP report said companies felt safer raising prices to meet rising costs during the pandemic, when work-from-home schedules and stimulus checks meant many people had the money to keep pace. But now the checks are gone and consumers are left looking for deals as their wages don’t keep pace with inflation.

The AP quoted Mary Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and a member of the Fed’s interest-rate setting committee, saying, “Firms are telling us that price sensitivity is very much higher now. Consumers don’t want to purchase unless they’re seeing a 10% discount. … This is a serious improvement in the role that consumers play in bridling inflation.”

There is comfort in knowing that the free market still responds to the buying preferences of consumers. And yet, there is frustration in knowing that no consumer behavior is likely to bring about the one thing people want most — a reduction in prices to their pre-pandemic levels.

That means high prices will continue to anger consumers and, consequently, to fuel campaign narratives.

This, we hope, will also help bring inflation under control. Politicians ought to learn to avoid big spending programs, loan forgiveness deals and the like, which are bound to stoke the cycle of high inflation and high interest rates, and which are hazards for anyone in public office.