Aug 22, 2022 - Podcasts

Have we reached peak inflation?

Inflation in the U.S. may have reached its peak. A big part of that is falling gas prices, which recently dipped back below the $4 per gallon mark. The price of crude oil is also on the decline, closing at just under $90 a barrel on Friday.

  • Plus, a new phase in the search for habitable planets.
  • And, a historic moment at the Iowa State Fair.

Guests: Axios' Javier David and Miriam Kramer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Monday, August 22. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re watching today: a new phase in the search for habitable planets. Plus, a historic moment at the Iowa State Fair. But first, what falling gas prices tell us about inflation. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

Lowering gas prices signal peak inflation

NIALA: Inflation in the U.S. may have reached its peak. A big part of that is falling gas prices, which recently dipped back below the $4 a gallon mark. The price of crude oil is also on the decline, closing at just under $90 a barrel on Friday and a reminder -- at one point, oil hit more than $130 a barrel over the past year, Axios business editor, Javier David joins us to talk about the role of gas prices in finally reining in inflation. Hey Javier.

JAVIER E. DAVID: Hello. How are you?

NIALA: Javier, we should probably start with how much of a role gas prices played in the 8.5 percent inflation we've seen year over year

JAVIER: Gas prices or energy prices in general have played a substantial role in the price surges over the last year or so. Now we're seeing the substantial drop that we've seen in the price of oil, which over $40 over the last several months, has trickled down into cheaper prices of gas. Uh, so that is uh, a good thing for consumption going forward.

NIALA: How much has actions by the U.S. government played a role in prices at the pump here?

JAVIER: Uh, well, look, the Biden administration would like to believe that they've taken a lot of, they could take a lot of credit for this. Really the reality of it is that the biggest spur for energy prices to date is the Russia-Ukraine conflict, that's really been the driver of, these incredible, almost astronomical prices that we've seen in commodities, not even just oil and gas, but just commodities in general. Now what we're seeing in terms of, why these prices are on the decline is, primarily there's a lot of fears surrounding China. China's economy's not doing well, they are, a major importer, if not the top importer of oil and gas, and, uh, their demand in their economy is really suffering.

So on the one hand, we're getting a bit of a price break, but on the other, it's because of the world’s, second largest economy and fears surrounding, demand there and what that might mean for the global economy.

NIALA: As trading starts this Monday morning, how do you think recent developments in the war in Ukraine are expected to be factored into energy prices this week?

JAVIER: So the Russia-Ukraine conflict, although it has sort of slipped off of the radar, is still very much a near-term danger for prices, and there have been two developments over the last several days that are sort of negative for the price of oil. The first is, a growing fear surrounding a Ukraine nuclear power plant, that some fear could lead to a new sort of Chernobyl of 2022. And there were headlines just over the last day or so that the daughter of a Putin ally was killed in a bomb, in Moscow, car bomb of some sorts, you know, anything that heightens the conflict. And this is what we're seeing, these two factors are spurs, really is negative for the price of oil. It will sort of concentrate minds on all of the global risks that will drive up the price of oil.

NIALA: All of that said Javier, given how much we've seen the price go down, especially in the past month - does that mean we've possibly hit peak inflation?

JAVIER: That is the hope. And I think that unlike the spring, when we were sort of hoping that inflation had peaked, but energy prices were still climbing at that time, there's a better chance that we have seen the last of the insane price surges that we've had to endure over the last year or so.

NIALA: Javier David is Axios’ Business Editor. Thanks Javier for walking us through this.

JAVIER: Thanks so much for having me on.

NIALA: In a moment: new movement in the search for other planets that can support life.

A new chapter in the search for alien planets

NIALA: Welcome Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Space science is entering a new era with more focus on whether planets can support life. Miriam Kramer is a Space Reporter for Axios and she's got the story. Hey, Miriam.

MIRIAM: Hey, thanks for having me.

NIALA: Miriam, the first thing that comes to my mind is that scientists are looking for our planet B as in, an alternative to earth, but I'm guessing that's not really the story here?

MIRIAM: Not quite. So scientists are really interested in finding sort of an Earth 2.0, so a world, like ours around a sun-like star, sort of a mirror image of us in space because that's the only planet that we know of that has life for sure. But scientists are also really interested in understanding the building blocks of what makes up a planet that is habitable.

So they're looking beyond just that sort of prototypical Earth 2.0, to actually find a world that could be habitable, maybe to a different form of life or to, you know, something that looks totally different from, from our own world.

NIALA: So what are those building blocks? How are they determining if things are habitable? Is it not just water and air?

MIRIAM: No, not necessarily. I mean, the basics, as we understand them, are that the world needs to be in what's called the habitable zone around its star.

So all that means is basically that water can exist in liquid form on its surface for a relatively long amount of time. We technically have three worlds in our solar system that are habitable-zone planets. So that's Mars, Earth and Venus. And we know only one of them right now is habitable . So a habitable zone does not like a habitable planet make, uh, you need an atmosphere, you might need a specific set of sort of chemistry happening in order to move from no life to life.

We don't know what's important to us versus what might be generally important to every other planet that might have life. So a good example of that, uh, is a moon. A lot of people think that the first life on Earth actually developed in tide pools and those are governed by the movement of the moon. So how important is having a moon to having life?

NIALA: You were last on to talk about the James Webb space telescope. Is that playing a role in this?

MIRIAM: Definitely. The JWST is sort of a big deal when it comes to understanding these types of planets, because it can look at the atmospheres of alien worlds and sort of parse through them and understand what molecules make them up. One of the first results that we got from the telescope was actually this spectrum showing that there was water vapor in the atmosphere of this giant planet that it was looking at.

It's not habitable, but it is a really cool proof-of-concept for what the telescope might be able to do in the future.

NIALA: Why else are we seeing this change in space science now?

MIRIAM: So it's really that we've hit a point where now there are about 5,000 exoplanets that scientists have found so far and scientists have kind of described this to me as moving from sort of stamp collecting into a more characterization type of regime in space science. So instead of just getting all of these worlds and sucking up as many as we can and seeing where they are in space, now they're moving to actually being able to understand their habitability in a real way, with tools like JWST and also, you know, they can understand the chemical fingerprints of these planets in a way that wasn't possible before. So not just their atmospheres, but also looking at the discs of debris and gas around different stars to kind of see what kind of chemistry is happening and maybe what has bearing on habitability in the future.

NIALA: Miriam Kramer reports on space for Axios. Thanks as always Miriam.

MIRIAM: Thanks for having me.

A historic moment at the Iowa State Fair

One fun thing before we go today.


It’s State Fair time! And in Iowa, that means the annual husband calling contest. That’s a 30-year tradition that is...exactly what it sounds like.


Our very own Axios Des Moines reporter Jason Clayworth made history on Friday - to be the first man to enter the husband calling contest.


Jason placed 6th out of 12. Thanks to Axios Des Moines’ Linh Ta for recording that audio for us.

I love State Fairs! I have very fond memories of the Springfield State Fair when I lived in Illinois - especially the turkey corn dogs. What’s your favorite thing about your State Fair? Send me a voice memo to (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt is a podcast from Lemonada Media that operates under the premise that the most comforting thing for all of us is knowing what – and what not – to worry about. Host Andy Slavitt, former White House Senior Advisor for COVID Response, is here to help you make sense of tough issues – from COVID to the crisis in Ukraine, to climate change…and beyond.

Andy breaks down the most complex news stories in a way that is easy to understand. In the Bubble has new episodes out Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

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