$90 College Textbooks a Sign of Runaway Inflation?

When I was in college (1997-2001), I recall new textbooks ringing up at $75, $80, or even $90. That was pretty steep then, but The Washington Post's Nell Henderson sees similar prices now as a symptom of worrisominflation in her August 17 article:

After poring over reams of data, the Labor Department reported yesterday that inflation rose last month, eating into people's paychecks and savings at a quickening clip.

Emerging from the Georgetown University bookstore in a rush, Linda Dodd didn't need a government report to tell her that. "I just spent $85 and $90 on two books," she said with a shrug.

Textbooks, whose prices have risen at a brisk 6.2 percent pace in the past year, are among the many goods and services that are becoming more expensive as inflation persists at some of the highest levels in 15 years.

There are two problems here. One is Henderson's illustration is misleading. Sure, new textbooks bought fresh off the shelf at a college bookstore are pricey, but millions of students save money everyday either by ordering cheaper new or used books online or by snatching up used textbooks at college or chain bookstores, or even at the media' least favorite superstore, Wal-Mart. As I wrote in my article at BusinessandMedia.org:

...Dodd was purchasing brand new textbooks from a university bookstore, which is considerably more expensive than shopping online or buying used books elsewhere, a point that Henderson left out.

As shown in a photograph accompanying the print edition of the story, the books Dodd purchased – “Community and Public Health Nursing” and “Critical Care Nursing: A Holistic Approach” – are $75.61 and $80.06 respectively on textbooks.com. At Amazon.com, used copies of those books can be purchased starting at $55 and $67.50 respectively.

The second problem, while Dodd was spinning the inflation data negatively, other media outlets reported experts saying the numbers were encouraging, showing inflation to be in check.

Perhaps among the most telling, even a strong skeptic of the economy found the data positive:

Even The New York Times’ Louis Uchitelle found the inflation data reassuring, writing that the “latest report” on CPI “suggests that inflation is slowing.” Uchitelle cited JP Morgan economist James Glassman commenting that core inflation – the rate of inflation when factoring out food and fuel – “was on the tamer side of what people on Wall Street expected."

Hardly a cheerleader for the Bush economy, Uchitelle has had such a pessimistic view of the American economy that he asserted in his book “The Disposable American” that the psychological impact on workers now is worse than it was during the Great Depression.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters