Whip Inflation Now

1. What are the costs of an excessive inflation tax?

2. When does inflation cause a redistribution?

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It is clear from that episode that even relatively moderate inflation is perceived as a bad thing. It is even more self-evident that massive inflations, such as those in Germany or Zimbabwe, are highly disruptive. It is hardly surprising that the stated primary objective of most central banks is price stability. All that said, we have not yet really explained exactly why inflation is costly. An Excessive Inflation Tax Inflation, used as one tax among many, may be an efficient way of raising some of a government’s revenues. The effects of the inflation tax are like the effects of any tax: people respond by substituting away from the activity being taxed. When the government taxes cigarettes, people smoke less. When the government taxes income, people work less. When the government taxes the money people hold, people hold less money. These changes in behavior are the distortions caused by taxation. People substitute away from holding money in two ways: (1) during moderate inflations, people allocate more of their time to transactions; and (2) during high inflations, people may cease using money altogether. During high inflations, the real value of money decreases quickly. So if you work and get paid in money, you had better go shopping quickly to make purchases. During hyperinflations, people may literally spend more time trying to get rid of their money than they do earning it in the first place. The same distortion applies, although less dramatically, in times of low to moderate inflation. People respond to inflation by carrying less cash, on average. To do so, they must spend more time standing in line in the bank and at automatic teller machines. Imagine that ice cream were to be used as money. In a very cold climate, ice cream is just fine as a store of value. In a very hot climate, by contrast, ice cream is a bad store of value. You would probably want to get paid every day, and as soon as you received your ice cream, you would run to the store to buy other goods and services before your money melted. You and everyone else would spend much more time shopping and less time working. Melting ice cream, in this world, is like inflation.

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