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Principles of Macroeconomics 2e

9.1 Tracking Inflation

Principles of Macroeconomics 2e9.1 Tracking Inflation
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Welcome to Economics!
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 What Is Economics, and Why Is It Important?
    3. 1.2 Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
    4. 1.3 How Economists Use Theories and Models to Understand Economic Issues
    5. 1.4 How To Organize Economies: An Overview of Economic Systems
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. 2 Choice in a World of Scarcity
    1. Introduction to Choice in a World of Scarcity
    2. 2.1 How Individuals Make Choices Based on Their Budget Constraint
    3. 2.2 The Production Possibilities Frontier and Social Choices
    4. 2.3 Confronting Objections to the Economic Approach
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  4. 3 Demand and Supply
    1. Introduction to Demand and Supply
    2. 3.1 Demand, Supply, and Equilibrium in Markets for Goods and Services
    3. 3.2 Shifts in Demand and Supply for Goods and Services
    4. 3.3 Changes in Equilibrium Price and Quantity: The Four-Step Process
    5. 3.4 Price Ceilings and Price Floors
    6. 3.5 Demand, Supply, and Efficiency
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  5. 4 Labor and Financial Markets
    1. Introduction to Labor and Financial Markets
    2. 4.1 Demand and Supply at Work in Labor Markets
    3. 4.2 Demand and Supply in Financial Markets
    4. 4.3 The Market System as an Efficient Mechanism for Information
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  6. 5 Elasticity
    1. Introduction to Elasticity
    2. 5.1 Price Elasticity of Demand and Price Elasticity of Supply
    3. 5.2 Polar Cases of Elasticity and Constant Elasticity
    4. 5.3 Elasticity and Pricing
    5. 5.4 Elasticity in Areas Other Than Price
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  7. 6 The Macroeconomic Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Macroeconomic Perspective
    2. 6.1 Measuring the Size of the Economy: Gross Domestic Product
    3. 6.2 Adjusting Nominal Values to Real Values
    4. 6.3 Tracking Real GDP over Time
    5. 6.4 Comparing GDP among Countries
    6. 6.5 How Well GDP Measures the Well-Being of Society
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  8. 7 Economic Growth
    1. Introduction to Economic Growth
    2. 7.1 The Relatively Recent Arrival of Economic Growth
    3. 7.2 Labor Productivity and Economic Growth
    4. 7.3 Components of Economic Growth
    5. 7.4 Economic Convergence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  9. 8 Unemployment
    1. Introduction to Unemployment
    2. 8.1 How Economists Define and Compute Unemployment Rate
    3. 8.2 Patterns of Unemployment
    4. 8.3 What Causes Changes in Unemployment over the Short Run
    5. 8.4 What Causes Changes in Unemployment over the Long Run
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  10. 9 Inflation
    1. Introduction to Inflation
    2. 9.1 Tracking Inflation
    3. 9.2 How to Measure Changes in the Cost of Living
    4. 9.3 How the U.S. and Other Countries Experience Inflation
    5. 9.4 The Confusion Over Inflation
    6. 9.5 Indexing and Its Limitations
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  11. 10 The International Trade and Capital Flows
    1. Introduction to the International Trade and Capital Flows
    2. 10.1 Measuring Trade Balances
    3. 10.2 Trade Balances in Historical and International Context
    4. 10.3 Trade Balances and Flows of Financial Capital
    5. 10.4 The National Saving and Investment Identity
    6. 10.5 The Pros and Cons of Trade Deficits and Surpluses
    7. 10.6 The Difference between Level of Trade and the Trade Balance
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Concepts and Summary
    10. Self-Check Questions
    11. Review Questions
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Problems
  12. 11 The Aggregate Demand/Aggregate Supply Model
    1. Introduction to the Aggregate Supply–Aggregate Demand Model
    2. 11.1 Macroeconomic Perspectives on Demand and Supply
    3. 11.2 Building a Model of Aggregate Demand and Aggregate Supply
    4. 11.3 Shifts in Aggregate Supply
    5. 11.4 Shifts in Aggregate Demand
    6. 11.5 How the AD/AS Model Incorporates Growth, Unemployment, and Inflation
    7. 11.6 Keynes’ Law and Say’s Law in the AD/AS Model
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Concepts and Summary
    10. Self-Check Questions
    11. Review Questions
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Problems
  13. 12 The Keynesian Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Keynesian Perspective
    2. 12.1 Aggregate Demand in Keynesian Analysis
    3. 12.2 The Building Blocks of Keynesian Analysis
    4. 12.3 The Phillips Curve
    5. 12.4 The Keynesian Perspective on Market Forces
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  14. 13 The Neoclassical Perspective
    1. Introduction to the Neoclassical Perspective
    2. 13.1 The Building Blocks of Neoclassical Analysis
    3. 13.2 The Policy Implications of the Neoclassical Perspective
    4. 13.3 Balancing Keynesian and Neoclassical Models
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  15. 14 Money and Banking
    1. Introduction to Money and Banking
    2. 14.1 Defining Money by Its Functions
    3. 14.2 Measuring Money: Currency, M1, and M2
    4. 14.3 The Role of Banks
    5. 14.4 How Banks Create Money
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  16. 15 Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation
    1. Introduction to Monetary Policy and Bank Regulation
    2. 15.1 The Federal Reserve Banking System and Central Banks
    3. 15.2 Bank Regulation
    4. 15.3 How a Central Bank Executes Monetary Policy
    5. 15.4 Monetary Policy and Economic Outcomes
    6. 15.5 Pitfalls for Monetary Policy
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  17. 16 Exchange Rates and International Capital Flows
    1. Introduction to Exchange Rates and International Capital Flows
    2. 16.1 How the Foreign Exchange Market Works
    3. 16.2 Demand and Supply Shifts in Foreign Exchange Markets
    4. 16.3 Macroeconomic Effects of Exchange Rates
    5. 16.4 Exchange Rate Policies
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  18. 17 Government Budgets and Fiscal Policy
    1. Introduction to Government Budgets and Fiscal Policy
    2. 17.1 Government Spending
    3. 17.2 Taxation
    4. 17.3 Federal Deficits and the National Debt
    5. 17.4 Using Fiscal Policy to Fight Recession, Unemployment, and Inflation
    6. 17.5 Automatic Stabilizers
    7. 17.6 Practical Problems with Discretionary Fiscal Policy
    8. 17.7 The Question of a Balanced Budget
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Concepts and Summary
    11. Self-Check Questions
    12. Review Questions
    13. Critical Thinking Questions
    14. Problems
  19. 18 The Impacts of Government Borrowing
    1. Introduction to the Impacts of Government Borrowing
    2. 18.1 How Government Borrowing Affects Investment and the Trade Balance
    3. 18.2 Fiscal Policy and the Trade Balance
    4. 18.3 How Government Borrowing Affects Private Saving
    5. 18.4 Fiscal Policy, Investment, and Economic Growth
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  20. 19 Macroeconomic Policy Around the World
    1. Introduction to Macroeconomic Policy around the World
    2. 19.1 The Diversity of Countries and Economies across the World
    3. 19.2 Improving Countries’ Standards of Living
    4. 19.3 Causes of Unemployment around the World
    5. 19.4 Causes of Inflation in Various Countries and Regions
    6. 19.5 Balance of Trade Concerns
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  21. 20 International Trade
    1. Introduction to International Trade
    2. 20.1 Absolute and Comparative Advantage
    3. 20.2 What Happens When a Country Has an Absolute Advantage in All Goods
    4. 20.3 Intra-industry Trade between Similar Economies
    5. 20.4 The Benefits of Reducing Barriers to International Trade
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  22. 21 Globalization and Protectionism
    1. Introduction to Globalization and Protectionism
    2. 21.1 Protectionism: An Indirect Subsidy from Consumers to Producers
    3. 21.2 International Trade and Its Effects on Jobs, Wages, and Working Conditions
    4. 21.3 Arguments in Support of Restricting Imports
    5. 21.4 How Governments Enact Trade Policy: Globally, Regionally, and Nationally
    6. 21.5 The Tradeoffs of Trade Policy
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  23. A | The Use of Mathematics in Principles of Economics
  24. B | The Expenditure-Output Model
  25. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
  26. References
  27. Index

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Calculate the annual rate of inflation
  • Explain and use index numbers and base years when simplifying the total quantity spent over a year for products
  • Calculate inflation rates using index numbers

Dinner table conversations where you might have heard about inflation usually entail reminiscing about when “everything seemed to cost so much less. You used to be able to buy three gallons of gasoline for a dollar and then go see an afternoon movie for another dollar.” Table 9.1 compares some prices of common goods in 1970 and 2017. Of course, the average prices in this table may not reflect the prices where you live. The cost of living in New York City is much higher than in Houston, Texas, for example. In addition, certain products have evolved over recent decades. A new car in 2017, loaded with antipollution equipment, safety gear, computerized engine controls, and many other technological advances, is a more advanced machine (and more fuel efficient) than your typical 1970s car. However, put details like these to one side for the moment, and look at the overall pattern. The primary reason behind the price rises in Table 9.1—and all the price increases for the other products in the economy—is not specific to the market for housing or cars or gasoline or movie tickets. Instead, it is part of a general rise in the level of all prices. At the beginning of 2017, $1 had about the same purchasing power in overall terms of goods and services as 18 cents did in 1972, because of the amount of inflation that has occurred over that time period.

Items 1970 2017
Pound of ground beef $0.66 $3.62
Pound of butter $0.87 $2.03
Movie ticket $1.55 $8.65
Sales price of new home (median) $22,000 $312,900
New car $3,000 $4,077
Gallon of gasoline $0.36 $2.35
Average hourly wage for a manufacturing worker $3.23 $20.65
Per capita GDP $5,069 $57,294
Table 9.1 Price Comparisons, 1970 and 2017 (Sources: See chapter References at end of book.)

Moreover, the power of inflation does not affect just goods and services, but wages and income levels, too. The second-to-last row of Table 9.1 shows that the average hourly wage for a manufacturing worker increased nearly six-fold from 1970 to 2017. The average worker in 2017 is better educated and more productive than the average worker in 1970—but not six times more productive. Per capita GDP increased substantially from 1970 to 2017, but is the average person in the U.S. economy really more than eleven times better off in just 47 years? Not likely.

A modern economy has millions of goods and services whose prices are continually quivering in the breezes of supply and demand. How can all of these shifts in price attribute to a single inflation rate? As with many problems in economic measurement, the conceptual answer is reasonably straightforward: Economists combine prices of a variety of goods and services into a single price level. The inflation rate is simply the percentage change in the price level. Applying the concept, however, involves some practical difficulties.

The Price of a Basket of Goods

To calculate the price level, economists begin with the concept of a basket of goods and services, consisting of the different items individuals, businesses, or organizations typically buy. The next step is to look at how the prices of those items change over time. In thinking about how to combine individual prices into an overall price level, many people find that their first impulse is to calculate the average of the prices. Such a calculation, however, could easily be misleading because some products matter more than others.

Changes in the prices of goods for which people spend a larger share of their incomes will matter more than changes in the prices of goods for which people spend a smaller share of their incomes. For example, an increase of 10% in the rental rate on housing matters more to most people than whether the price of carrots rises by 10%. To construct an overall measure of the price level, economists compute a weighted average of the prices of the items in the basket, where the weights are based on the actual quantities of goods and services people buy. The following Work It Out feature walks you through the steps of calculating the annual rate of inflation based on a few products.

Work It Out

Calculating an Annual Rate of Inflation

Consider the simple basket of goods with only three items, represented in Table 9.2. Say that in any given month, a college student spends money on 20 hamburgers, one bottle of aspirin, and five movies. The table provides prices for these items over four years through each time period (Pd). Prices of some goods in the basket may rise while others fall. In this example, the price of aspirin does not change over the four years, while movies increase in price and hamburgers bounce up and down. The table shows the cost of buying the given basket of goods at the prices prevailing at that time.

Items Hamburger Aspirin Movies Total Inflation Rate
Qty 20 1 bottle 5 - -
(Pd 1) Price $3.00 $10.00 $6.00 - -
(Pd 1) Amount Spent $60.00 $10.00 $30.00 $100.00 -
(Pd 2) Price $3.20 $10.00 $6.50 - -
(Pd 2) Amount Spent $64.00 $10.00 $32.50 $106.50 6.5%
(Pd 3) Price $3.10 $10.00 $7.00 - -
(Pd 3) Amount Spent $62.00 $10.00 $35.00 $107.00 0.5%
(Pd 4) Price $3.50 $10.00 $7.50 - -
(Pd 4) Amount Spent $70.00 $10.00 $37.50 $117.50 9.8%
Table 9.2 A College Student’s Basket of Goods

To calculate the annual rate of inflation in this example:

Step 1. Find the percentage change in the cost of purchasing the overall basket of goods between the time periods. The general equation for percentage changes between two years, whether in the context of inflation or in any other calculation, is:

Level in new year – Level in previous yearLevel in previous year x 100 = Percentage changeLevel in new year – Level in previous yearLevel in previous year x 100 = Percentage change

Step 2. From period 1 to period 2, the total cost of purchasing the basket of goods in Table 9.2 rises from $100 to $106.50. Therefore, the percentage change over this time—the inflation rate—is:

106.50 – 100100.0 = 0.065 = 6.5%106.50 – 100100.0 = 0.065 = 6.5%

Step 3. From period 2 to period 3, the overall change in the cost of purchasing the basket rises from $106.50 to $107. Thus, the inflation rate over this time, again calculated by the percentage change, is approximately:

107 – 106.50106.50 = 0.0047 = 0.47%107 – 106.50106.50 = 0.0047 = 0.47%

Step 4. From period 3 to period 4, the overall cost rises from $107 to $117.50. The inflation rate is thus:

117.50 – 107107 = 0.098 = 9.8%117.50 – 107107 = 0.098 = 9.8%

This calculation of the change in the total cost of purchasing a basket of goods accounts for how much a student spends on each good. Hamburgers are the lowest-priced good in this example, and aspirin is the highest-priced. If an individual buys a greater quantity of a low-price good, then it makes sense that changes in the price of that good should have a larger impact on the buying power of that person’s money. The larger impact of hamburgers shows up in the “amount spent” row, where, in all time periods, hamburgers are the largest item within the amount spent row.

Index Numbers

The numerical results of a calculation based on a basket of goods can get a little messy. The simplified example in Table 9.2 has only three goods and the prices are in even dollars, not numbers like 79 cents or $124.99. If the list of products were much longer, and we used more realistic prices, the total quantity spent over a year might be some messy-looking number like $17,147.51 or $27,654.92.

To simplify the task of interpreting the price levels for more realistic and complex baskets of goods, economists typically report the price level in each period as an index number, rather than as the dollar amount for buying the basket of goods. Economists create price indices to calculate an overall average change in relative prices over time. To convert the money spent on the basket to an index number, economists arbitrarily choose one year to be the base year, or starting point from which we measure changes in prices. The base year, by definition, has an index number equal to 100. This sounds complicated, but it is really a simple math trick. In the example above, say that we choose time period 3 as the base year. Since the total amount of spending in that year is $107, we divide that amount by itself ($107) and multiply by 100. Again, this is because the index number in the base year always has to have a value of 100. Then, to figure out the values of the index number for the other years, we divide the dollar amounts for the other years by 1.07 as well. Note also that the dollar signs cancel out so that index numbers have no units.

Table 9.3 shows calculations for the other values of the index number, based on the example in Table 9.2. Because we calculate the index numbers so that they are in exactly the same proportion as the total dollar cost of purchasing the basket of goods, we can calculate the inflation rate based on the index numbers, using the percentage change formula. Thus, the inflation rate from period 1 to period 2 would be

99.5 – 93.493.4 = 0.065 = 6.5%99.5 – 93.493.4 = 0.065 = 6.5%

This is the same answer that we derived when measuring inflation based on the dollar cost of the basket of goods for the same time period.

Total Spending Index Number Inflation Rate Since Previous Period
Period 1 $100 1001.07 = 93.41001.07 = 93.4
Period 2 $106.50 106.501.07 = 99.5106.501.07 = 99.5 99.5 – 93.493.4 = 0.065 = 6.5%99.5 – 93.493.4 = 0.065 = 6.5%
Period 3 $107 1071.07 = 100.01071.07 = 100.0 100 – 99.599.5 = 0.005 = 0.5%100 – 99.599.5 = 0.005 = 0.5%
Period 4 $117.50 117.501.07 = 109.8117.501.07 = 109.8 109.8 – 100100 = 0.098 = 9.8%109.8 – 100100 = 0.098 = 9.8%
Table 9.3 Calculating Index Numbers When Period 3 is the Base Year

If the inflation rate is the same whether it is based on dollar values or index numbers, then why bother with the index numbers? The advantage is that indexing allows easier eyeballing of the inflation numbers. If you glance at two index numbers like 107 and 110, you know automatically that the rate of inflation between the two years is about, but not quite exactly equal to, 3%. By contrast, imagine that we express the price levels in absolute dollars of a large basket of goods, so that when you looked at the data, the numbers were $19,493.62 and $20,040.17. Most people find it difficult to eyeball those kinds of numbers and say that it is a change of about 3%. However, the two numbers expressed in absolute dollars are exactly in the same proportion of 107 to 110 as the previous example. If you’re wondering why simple subtraction of the index numbers wouldn’t work, read the following Clear It Up feature.

Clear It Up

Why do you not just subtract index numbers?

A word of warning: When a price index moves from, say, 107 to 110, the rate of inflation is not exactly 3%. Remember, the inflation rate is not derived by subtracting the index numbers, but rather through the percentage-change calculation. We calculate the precise inflation rate as the price index moves from 107 to 110 as 100 x (110 – 107) / 107 = 100 x 0.028 = 2.8%. When the base year is fairly close to 100, a quick subtraction is not a terrible shortcut to calculating the inflation rate—but when precision matters down to tenths of a percent, subtracting will not give the right answer.

Two final points about index numbers are worth remembering. First, index numbers have no dollar signs or other units attached to them. Although we can use index numbers to calculate a percentage inflation rate, the index numbers themselves do not have percentage signs. Index numbers just mirror the proportions that we find in other data. They transform the other data so that it is easier to work with the data.

Second, the choice of a base year for the index number—that is, the year that is automatically set equal to 100—is arbitrary. We choose it as a starting point from which we can track changes in prices. In the official inflation statistics, it is common to use one base year for a few years, and then to update it, so that the base year of 100 is relatively close to the present. However, any base year that we choose for the index numbers will result in exactly the same inflation rate. To see this in the previous example, imagine that period 1 is the base year when total spending was $100, and we assign it an index number of 100. At a glance, you can see that the index numbers would now exactly match the dollar figures, and the inflation rate in the first period would be 6.5%.

Now that we see how indexes work to track inflation, the next module will show us how economists measure the cost of living.

Link It Up

Watch this video from the cartoon Duck Tales to view a mini-lesson on inflation.

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