I have an “inflation update” post coming. Before that one, let’s review what inflation is.
Most people think it’s price increases. People have been trained to think that way (which I’ll address in a bit). But it’s not. Inflation is depreciation of the money, which may then result in price increases.
In olden times, money was physical metal. For example, the UK’s “pound sterling” was once an actual 12 ounces of 92.5% silver metal.
Over the centuries, they made it a paper note, and then they kept diluting the value of the note, until today it’s worth a tiny fraction of a pound of silver. A troy pound of sterling silver today would be worth about £126 (or about $210). In other words, they shaved off 125/126 of the pound’s value, over the centuries. That’s inflation.
Likewise, the U.S. dollar. It was once defined as about 1/20 ounce of gold. To say it another way, gold was fixed at $20.67/ounce until 1933, meaning that the U.S. Treasury would really give you near-an-ounce of gold, if you demanded it in exchange for a $20 paper note. But today, gold is around $1250/ounce. Today, (1) the dollar is NOT a fixed amount of gold, and (2) if you were to exchange it, on today’s date you would find that a dollar gets you about 1/1250 ounce of gold, or about 1/62 as much as before. That’s inflation.
When the money is depreciated like that, it takes more units to represent another value – a loaf of bread, a gallon of gas, a car you want to buy, medical services, etc. So, inflation tends to mean higher prices. People call the higher prices, inflation. Except it’s not; it’s only a symptom of inflation.
Think of it this way. When you have a flu, your temperature may be 102 degrees. That’s a symptom, not a disease. The flu virus is your disease. Likewise, when the government (or central bank) depreciates the money, prices may be seen at higher levels. That’s a symptom, not a disease. The depreciation is the disease.
Why do governments depreciate the money? Because it’s a hidden tax. It means the government can spend more, without having to openly raise taxes. The government is always the number one beneficiary of inflation; always the real reason it’s done.
The government gets the most benefit if people don’t understand inflation, or think clearly about it. If people understood inflation, then everybody would raise the prices of their labor, goods and services, the moment they saw the government (or central bank) depreciating the money. So the government’s added spending would not go as far. The government would still benefit from being able to repay its debts in depreciated money. But overall, the government would get that much less bang for its inflated/depreciated buck.
Thus, the government – and its acolytes in media, Wall Street and academia – have a vested interest in people NOT understanding inflation. And so they spew a lot of crap about it. They muddy the waters with false doctrines – including the one I’m correcting (that inflation-is-about-the-price-increases-and-we-have-not-had-any-price-increases-you-idiot).
Another false doctrine they spew is that we somehow *need* inflation, because deflation (opposite of inflation) is somehow bad for people and scary. Deflation is bad – to the beneficiaries of inflation, namely Big Banking and Big Government. But not to average Americans. I may address that one, in a future post.