How Inflation Works: Why I Can’t Buy an Old Ferrari

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
Counterpunch
Wednesday, Oct 22, 2008

Anyone who has been alive very long is aware that the US government has failed on the inflation front. Soft drink machines that once delivered a bottled drink for a nickel now charge a dollar, a twenty-fold increase in price.

Until the Reagan administration indexed the income tax, inflation was a boon to government, because by pushing up wages and salaries inflation pushed taxpayers into higher brackets. This allowed the real tax burden on labor to rise without politicians having to raise the tax rates. Inflation also destroyed the value of depreciation allowances, thus raising the tax rate on capital as well.

It is not easy to make the young aware of the long-term rise in prices. The inflation indices are periodically re-based, resulting in measures over time with different years as the base. The Clinton administration further destroyed comparability by substituting a variable basket of goods for the fixed assortment that had previously prevailed. With the Boskin Commission “reform” adopted by the Clinton administration, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) no longer compares apples to apples. If the price of apples rises, the CPI assumes that consumers switch to a cheaper substitute. The “substitution effect” thus underestimates the rate of inflation and destroys the comparability of the inflation rate from one period to the next.

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