Inflation is common in a modern economy. Shifts in supply and demand for goods and services cause prices to change accordingly. When the average level of prices
Inflation is common in a modern economy. Shifts in supply and demand for goods and services cause prices to change accordingly. When the average level of prices rises, that’s inflation. It means that you’ll need more money to purchase the same stuff.
Inflation in the United States can be measured using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) – a weighted average of the price increases. We can calculate the inflation rate by the percentage change in the CPI over a given period of time.
How much do prices actually change? Well, using FRED, we can see that, over the past thirty-three years, prices have more than doubled. That may seem like a lot. However, wages have also risen, on average, by more than prices during that time period. Inflation doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re worse off.
The inflation rate in the United States has averaged at about 2.5% per year since 1980, which is fairly low and indicative of a stable economy. Prices may be increasing, but the changes are small. Wages have time to catch up. You can be confident that the $5 in your pocket isn’t going to be worth drastically less in a year.
Let’s take a look at a different scenario -- one that’s playing in Venezuela right now. As the country faces an economic crisis, inflation is skyrocketing. Rates reached 180% in 2015 and have continued to rise since. 5 bolívar in your pocket could be worth less even by the end of the day.
But Venezuela still doesn’t compare to the hyperinflation that Zimbabwe experienced in the 2000s, reaching dizzying rates of billions of a percent per month. (See MRU’s previous video for more!)
While some inflation is perfectly normal, high rates of inflation make it difficult for consumers to use a nation’s currency. If the value is changing a lot by the week, day, or even minute, people don’t want to hold onto or accept the currency for goods and services -- leading to a full blown currency crisis.
Up next, we’ll take a deeper dive into what causes inflation and its consequences.