“It’s all about the numbers,” my friend K.C. said when I caught up with him at the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.

 

He was looking at “Thinker on a Rock,” the whimsical sculpture by Barry Flanagan of an elongated bronze rabbit, posed like Auguste Rodin’s 1904 “Thinker,” one of the best-known sculptures of the 20th century.

 

Like Rodin, Flanagan made several copies of his “thinker.” Similar rabbits reside in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., at Washington University in St. Louis and at galleries in Tulsa, Okla., Dublin, Ireland, and the Netherlands. 

 

“Numbers are always interesting,” I agreed, having no idea what K.C. was talking about. 

 

“Which numbers do you think our rabbit friend is considering today?” I asked.

 

“Has to be inflation,” K.C. said. “That’s what everybody is talking about, isn’t it?”

 

“I guess so,” I said. “Should we be worried?”

 

“People always worry, whether they need to or not,” K.C. said. “Everyone has their own frame of reference, and that means some people worry when they don’t need to and others don’t when they should.”

 

“Well,” I replied, “which is it? Should we be worrying about inflation or not?”

 

“Energy prices are a major driver of inflation today,” K.C. responded, ignoring my question.

 

“I know,” I said. “Hardly a day goes by when someone I know doesn’t complain about the price of gas.”

 

“People are born complainers,” he said. 

 

“Until recently,” K.C. continued, “most complaining about high gas prices was so much hooey.

 

“Two years ago,” he said, “because of COVID, people were barely driving, and the inflation-adjusted price of gas was lower than any time before the oil embargoes of the 1970s. 

 

“But now, because people are driving like crazy and there are shortages tied to the war in Ukraine, the price of gasoline has shot up to more than $4 a gallon, which is an all-time high.

 

“I doubt it will stay there for long,” he added. “The inflation-adjusted price of gas has been pretty consistent at between $3.10 and $3.30 a gallon since the late 1970s. 

 

“And even if it doesn’t drop soon, keep in mind that today’s cars get way better mileage than they did when gas was really cheap, so the overall cost of driving hasn’t increased as much as people think.

 

“Another big inflation factor,” he said, “is the cost of housing, which is driven now by high interest rates.”

 

“With mortgage rates above 5%,” I said, “I would not want to be buying a house today.” 

 

“Mortgage rates are the highest they’ve been since 2009,” K.C. said. “Anyone who takes out a mortgage today will have to pay a few hundred dollars more a month than they would at 3%.”

 

“Maybe that will make them quit driving so much,” I said sarcastically.  

 

“The thing you forget is that for the past decade or so interest rates have been abnormally low,” K.C. said. “All the rates are really doing is going back to something that is more normal. It’s only because we’ve gotten addicted to low rates that what used to be normal now seems high.” 

 

I must have had a dazed look because he asked: “Are you following me?”

 

“Sort of,” I replied. “Now that you mention it, I remember when we bought our house back in 1976, the standard mortgage rate was 9%. That seems awfully high now.

 

“But I also remember that when we had kids and needed a bigger house, rates were even higher.”

 

“Mortgage rates got as high as 17% in 1982,” K.C. said. “They didn’t get back down to below 9% for another 10 years.” 

 

“Tell me we’re not in another cycle like that now,” I said.

 

“We’re not,” K.C. replied. “We’ve learned a lot about how to tweak the economy in the 21st century.

 

“What we haven’t learned is how to control politicians who think they know better and gum up the works by doing something stupid, like making everyone buy more ethanol,” he said as he walked away.